Now we return to Matthew’s Gospel for the final chapters. His last stop before his Passion was a garden. Apparently it was a place he frequented regularly, since Judas was able to lead the soldiers there to arrest him. He often took time out to commune with his Father. Here are just some observations:
• The name Gethsemane is derived from an Aramaic word meaning “oil press.” It was a place of crushing, so this certainly was an appropriate name.
• Several years ago a famous (and blasphemous) movie came out entitled The Final Temptation of Christ. In a very real sense, this was his final temptation. He had to make the final choice to obey his Father or give into his own desires. Our First Parents were also confronted with a choice in a Garden, and they failed miserably. Here a choice was made as well, with very different results. The beautiful paintings of Jesus placidly accepting the will of the Father, complete with a halo around his head, is not the picture Scripture presents. This was a man in severe agony. Before his arrest, before a single lash of the whip, he shed blood.
• Luke’s account also mentions angels coming to attend him. Interestingly enough, both Matthew’s and Mark’s account of his temptation in the wilderness tell of angels giving him aid and somehow “attending” him, while Luke’s does not. In his final confrontation with the Enemy, now Luke has angels while the other Gospel writers don’t mention them.
• As C. S. Lewis pointed out, this was undoubtedly both an encouragement and a disillusioning moment for him. He was praying, he was asking, he was pleading for a way out of this. He did not want to do this. He asked his Father to find another way, and the response he got was angelic support, which in effect, was a gentle “no.”
• The impression we get from the Gospels is that he spent some considerable time in the garden, but his recorded words take only a few seconds. Most likely his disciples, after a large meal and a late night, only record for us the words they heard before they drifted off. In his moment of need, when he could have really used the support and prayers of his friends, they fell asleep. The fate of the universe hangs in the balance, and they’re asleep. I wish I could condemn them, but I’d end up condemning myself along with them.
• And of course, they paid for their laziness. He warned them to “watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation.” They didn’t, and when the soldiers arrived, their lack of spiritual preparation led to their fleeing and scattering in the darkness.
• Finally, this is the perfect model of prayer for us. There's nothing wrong with desiring good things, and even to avoid bad ones. Our Lord, even in his human nature, didn’t sin, so we don’t sin either when we follow his example by asking the Father for something different from what he’s given us. But the perfect attitude always comes with the caveat: “Not as I will, but as you will.” Ask, but submit to the Father’s will.
There are a lot of lessons we could pull from this, and I think I’ve got what the Holy Spirit is trying to tell me. How about you?
Here's Michael Card's meditation on this, "In The Garden."
Father God, your ways are so much above my ways. I’m your adopted son, so I need to act more like it. Please make me more like Jesus. No, really.