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The three Gethsemanes

English Spanish Fr. Eduardo Barrios, SJ Profile

Yesterday, March 25 – Palm Sunday – the Christian world began its most significant week of the year, rightly called “Holy,” which culminates in the celebration of the Paschal Mystery, namely, the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Jesus.

The sorrowful mysteries of the Lord began on Holy Thursday after the Last Supper. From the Cenacle, Jesus walked with his disciples to a garden where he usually went to pray: “Then going out he went, as was his custom, to the Mount of Olives” (Lk 22: 39). Another evangelist says that the garden was called “Gethsemane” (Mt 26: 36).

We will approach that first sorrowful mystery with the help of three texts.

I. The Synoptic Gethsemane

The three synoptic Gospels tell what happened in that lonely place. The dreariest text comes from the writings of St. Mark (14: 32-42).

There, Jesus revealed his inner state of dread and anguish to Peter, James and John, his closest disciples: “My soul is sorrowful even to death” (v. 34).

Because he knew that the next day he would suffer the most cruel torments, his legs became weak, and more than kneeling, he “fell to the ground” (v. 35).

There was a struggle in his prayer between his human will to rebel against such bloody torments and the divine will to offer his life as a redemptive sacrifice. That is why the episode is often called “Agony in the garden,” since agony means struggle. The intensity of the struggle gave rise to an unusual phenomenon: “…his sweat became like drops of blood falling on the ground” (Lk 22: 44).

Jesus addresses his heavenly Father with an Aramaic word, “Abba,” a filial expression alien to formal worship: “Abba, Father, you can do it all, take this cup away from me!” (Mk 14: 36). “Cup” symbolizes the shedding of his blood to death. After asking intensely to be ridden of such a cruel death, Jesus adds, “but not what I will but what you will” (v. 36). Therefore, his adherence to the divine will prevails.

The disciples sleep while Jesus seeks strength in prayer. Not long before dawn, Jesus feels internally strengthened. He rises from his prostration, and calmly and decisively addresses his disciples with these words: “Get up, let us go. See, my betrayer is at hand” (v. 42). After praying for a long time, Jesus seems to be in full control of himself, ready to face his destiny.            

II. The Johannine Gethsemane

The fourth evangelist does not describe the scene that took place in Gethsemane, but the feelings of Jesus when he sees his “hour” coming to pass (Jn 13:1).

A few days before Easter, Jesus prayed: “I am troubled now. Yet what should I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But it was for this purpose that I came to this hour. Father, glorify your name” (Jn 12: 27-28). That prayer reveals the same state of mind that he had in the garden, the struggle between the desire to be freed from the cross and the desire to be faithful to his saving mission. The answer to that prayer came in the form of a theophany analogous to those of Baptism and Transfiguration: “Then a voice came from heaven, ‘I have glorified it and will glorify it again’” (Jn 12: 28b).

III. The Gethsemane of Hebrews

That letter reads, “In the days when he was in the flesh, he offered prayers and supplications with loud cries and tears to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence” (Heb 5: 7). It also demonstrates the feelings that Jesus had in the garden, the conflict of wills. They combine the agonizing intensity of his prayer with dutiful reverence. The author also says that Jesus was heard, that his prayer was successful. However, didn’t he die? Yes, he died. Nevertheless, although the Father did not save him from death on Good Friday, he did rescue him from the tomb on Easter Sunday.

The first mystery of the Lord's Passion eloquently teaches us to trust in the miraculous power of prayer.

Fr. Eduardo Barrios, SJ
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Comments from readers

Gricell - 03/28/2018 06:24 PM
I was there, a month ago, and feel special and still agony and the conflic of his will.Thank Jesus.
james - 03/27/2018 06:48 PM
A blessed time of the year!

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