Please God, more Scriptural and Patristic sources will be added to the present “rant style” meditations when circumstances at Holy Souls Hermitage aren’t quite so utterly barbaric.
The purpose of this first run through these mysteries is to note especially the goodness and kindness of Jesus amidst the violence and chaos back in the day… and today. Hang on, it might be a bit of a rough ride, as rough and tumble as we focus on, in this post, the Agony in the Garden. Let’s take a look at Luke 22,39-53 split up into four sections, each of them describing, among other things, diverse betrayals.
(1) Luke 22,39 Then going out he went, as was his custom, to the Mount of Olives, and the disciples followed him. 40 When he arrived at the place he said to them:
“Pray that you may not undergo the trial.” 41 After withdrawing about a stone’s throw from them and kneeling, he prayed, 42 saying, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup away from me; still, not my will but yours be done.” 43 And to strengthen him an angel from heaven appeared to him. 44 He was in such agony and he prayed so fervently that his sweat became like drops of blood falling on the ground. 45 When he rose from prayer and returned to his disciples, he found them sleeping from grief. 46 He said to them, “Why are you sleeping? Get up and pray that you may not undergo the trial.”
In this first scene of betrayal, we see those very special apostles, Peter, James and John (as we know from John’s Gospel), betraying Jesus by their failure to pray. They are thus overwhelmed by their sorrow, by their grief, not realizing that they have already been put to the test and been found wanting. They are ”asleep” on so very many levels. It will not go well for them in the next moments, and they will all run away, the first collegial act of bishops, as Archbishop Fulton Sheen had it.
The apostles are vehemently commanded by our Lord to pray. When one prays, one is not alone. One finds oneself with God. One is to be with God and thus avoid going it alone into any trial. This trial is described twice with the word πειρασμόν, which is also used to the same effect at the end of the Lord’s prayer, where we do not pray that God not lead us into temptation (for He doesn’t do such a thing anyway, ever), but instead pray that He not (quite justly) shove us right into the trial, that is, alone.
We cannot avoid the trial, but we can avoid going into the battle alone. When we pray, we are not thrown into the battle, the trial, but we are rather carried by our Lord, who does the battle, who goes through the trial for us, with us, in our stead. In making us members of His Body, He lays down our lives with His. When He takes the initiative to crush Satan on the head, He is leaving Himself open to being crushed on the heel by Satan. Both actions are lethal. The judgment of the trial is made: Christ, who is innocent, has taken on the death we deserve, and has the right in justice to have mercy on us. We also have the privilege to be with Him in this battle, in this trial.
In not praying, what will happen? Like the apostles, who failed to pray, we will meet the trial, the battle, head on, and fail, running away, being scattered while the Shepherd is struck. We are cowards, and we fail, unless we pray, in which case, we remain cowards on this earth, but can depend on God, on the Lord, to carry us in our weakness, doing the battle for us, going through the trial for us, with us.
In the Lord’s prayer, the petition not to be shoved into the trial, the battle, on our own, is contrasted strongly with the following petition: “BUT deliver us from the Evil One“, from Satan. This battle, this trial, is described in all its complexity in Genesis 3,15.
Here, in Gethsemane, Satan is not mentioned directly. He need not be. Judas is mentioned. Judas comes to betray him, but this is not so much Judas as it is Satan who has entered into Judas at the Last Supper, after which he had gone out into the darkness. It seems that Judas never prayed.
We’re not to forget the purpose of the footwashing at the Last Supper, for it has everything to do with Satan. It’s a kind of exorcism for the apostles, washing them, so to speak, from the one who is unclean, who has Satan within him, Judas, the betrayer. Why the feet? Because the feet collect the cursed dust of the earth, the home of Satan since his condemnation back in Genesis. Moses could safely go barefoot on the sacred ground near the burning bush, but the apostles would have to shake the cursed, satanic dust off their feet against those towns who would not welcome them. Satan was the first betrayer. He likes to be present at any important betrayal.
Also, note the contrast with the angel in the very center of the chiasmus of this passage. He is not there to feel sorry for Jesus. Quite the opposite. He is there to strengthen Jesus, to shove Jesus into the very battle with Satan that we are to pray to avoid, at least to the effect that we do not go into that battle alone, but are instead carried there by our Lord, protected by Him, who does this battle for us, with us. What an angel!
By the way, it is medically possible to sweat great drops of blood, but this involves such a massive heart attack, unsurvivable for more than a few days, that Jesus would have died from the heart attack regardless of the scourging and crucifixion. Jesus, in fact, died of a broken heart. It is said that such a heart attack would tear open the pericardium, the outer shell of the heart, and that there would be a separation of the red and white blood cells in the remaining sack by the time the next afternoon arrived, so that John would have seen blood and water flowing from the pierced side of Jesus. With the intensity of Jesus’ prayer, offering Himself willingly, vicariously, for us. He has the full right in justice to have mercy on us. He is just that good, just that kind.
UPDATE: A great reader writes this: Out of respect, I didn’t want to leave this as a public comment [No worries!], but I doubt the red cell and white cell explanation for the blood and water really works. Blood and plasma, perhaps, but plasma is more than just white cells. Even at that, plasma doesn’t look much like water. It’s thicker and less transparent. However, I think I may have an idea what it was. I’ve had five heart attacks. In all of them, I got some fluid in my lungs – once enough fluid to know what it feels like to drown. I’ve seen some of that fluid drained from my lungs and it looks like water. As you know, the heart is surrounded by the lungs, so the lance that pierced the Sacred Heart would have also passed through our Lord’s lungs. The heart attack that you mentioned could still be the right origin for the phenomenon, but just with a different intermediate mechanism.
(2) Luke 22,47 While he was still speaking, a crowd approached and in front was one of the Twelve, a man named Judas. He went up to Jesus to kiss him. 48 Jesus said to him, “Judas, are you betraying the Son of Man with a kiss?”
So, here we have the second scene of betrayal. Judas, who never prayed, who was possessed, who then committed suicide. He was an apostle, a prince of the Church, someone to be looked up to. He used his office for personal gain. He hated Jesus and his fellow man. There are plenty of such bishops among the thousands of bishops in the world today, and in every age. We will all be Judas unless we pray. All of us. Without exception. Unless we pray. I will refrain from commenting on the significance of the kiss which Jesus finds so very disgusting…
(3) Luke 22,49 His disciples realized what was about to happen, and they asked, “Lord, shall we strike with a sword?” 50 And one of them struck the high priest’s servant and cut off his right ear. 51 But Jesus said in reply, “Stop, no more of this!” Then he touched the servant’s ear and healed him.
In this third scene of betrayal, we see a more subtle form of betrayal. It is the betrayal of feeling sorry for someone, which is not at all the same as love in the face of the need of someone else. Feeling sorry for someone in the worst sense will always be condescending, always dismissive of the mission of the one who is undergoing a difficulty, always interfering to make sure that our will is done, not that of God. Peter, all full of himself, feels sorry for Jesus. Sigh. No, Peter. Put the sword away. There is a redemption to accomplish!
(4) Luke 22,52 And Jesus said to the chief priests and temple guards and elders who had come for him, “Have you come out as against a robber, with swords and clubs? 53 Day after day I was with you in the temple area, and you did not seize me; but this is your hour, of the power of darkness.”
In this fourth scene of betrayal, we see the cowards all gathered together, finding security among themselves as they vomit their nervousness in the presence of majestic goodness onto Jesus. They are so frightened that when our Lord so very authoritatively proclaims that He is “I AM” (as we read in John), they turn away and fall to the ground from which they were taken. It’s as if they are all possessed, and they are. Jesus lets them know how stupid they are acting in going along with the betrayal of Judas, but then explains to them the reason for this stupidity, saying that they are doing this in their hour, which is not so much their hour, but the chosen hour of the power of darkness, of Satan and his minions, the hour chosen since Genesis 3,15. Don’t doubt for a second that hate filled betrayal, self-centered, self-serving betrayal of another is very possibly demonic in origin.
Please God, I will have the privilege of writing about the arrest and imprisonment of Jesus elsewhere on 2 May, 2012, so I will refrain from going futher here. There is already enough here, I should think, to dwell on for the space of ten Hail Marys, meditating not just about the facts, but in all humble thanksgiving for all that our Lord went through for the likes of us. Thank you, Jesus. Hail Mary…