36 Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane; and he said to his disciples, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” 37 He took with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be grieved and agitated. 38 Then he said to them, “I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and stay awake with me.” 39 And going a little farther, he threw himself on the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want but what you want.” 40 Then he came to the disciples and found them sleeping; and he said to Peter, “So, could you not stay awake with me one hour? 41 Stay awake and pray that you may not come into the time of trial;[a] the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” [Matthew 26:36-41, NRSV]
1. Small sculpture in Garden of Olives depicting Jesus praying on a rock; 2. The Church of All Nations; 3. The Rock of Agony inside church.
On the final day of our pilgrimage trip, we spent the morning at the Mount of Olives, visiting the Garden of Olives, the Garden of Gethsemane and the Church of All Nations, and celebrating Mass in the church at 8:00 AM.
The garden proudly claims to have very old olive trees – hundreds and even a few thousand years old. At one corner of the garden, there is a small but stunning sculpture of Jesus praying on a rock. It conjures up an image of intense emotions in desperate prayers.
Known also as the Basilica of the Agony, this church was built between 1919 and 1924 from funds donated from many different countries – hence its name “Church of All Nations”.
The church famously enshrines a section of the bedrock where traditionally Jesus is believed to have prayed before his arrest (Mark 14:32-42).
At the final Mass which we celebrated within the fenced in sanctuary area of the church, Jeff was invited to give a reflection which is reproduced below.
After the Last Supper at the Upper Room, Jesus walked with his disciples towards the Mount of Olives, crossed the Kidron Valley, and reached the Garden of Gethsemane. There in the garden, deeply troubled and sorrowful as he sensed his imminent suffering and death, Jesus prayed and agonized.
At the rock of agony, where we are right now, Saint Luke says Jesus’ “sweat became like great drops of blood falling down upon the ground” (Luke 22:44). And so, at crisis-time, at a life-changing moment in the earthly life of Jesus of Nazareth, he struggled, cried, prayed, agonized, and sweat blood right here.
I would like, if I may, to propose three points for reflection.
1. First, we look at Jesus: How did Jesus handle his crisis situation?
At Gethsemane, Jesus was confronted by the most basic question: He preached love, but confronted by his own life-crisis, what should that love be guided by? This is crunch time; this is concrete; this is real life.
You see, Jesus is so conscious of his mission of love. He has preached that we should love God and love neighbour as the first commandment in all that we do. “Seek ye first the kingdom of God,” he urged unreservedly. He therefore put God’s compassion for the human person before the Law, unlike the religious leaders whose religious practices insisted that the Law must be prioritized before the human person. For Jesus, then, the human person, the child of God that is, is infinitely more important than the law, so that he would by words and actions insist that “the Sabbath is made for man and not man for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27). That, of course, seriously upset the status quo in the religious system, prompting the religious leaders to plot to kill him. At Gethsemane, Jesus knew that his suffering death was near, and Scriptures say he was “greatly distressed and troubled”, “very sorrowful even to death” (Matthew 26:13-14; Mark 14:33-34). He was filled with fear for what he sensed was coming. He desired the suffering cup to pass from him.
At the same time, Jesus also knew that to do God’s work, he needed to be liberated from this fear. He must move from fear to freedom – freedom to love, till the very end. He must show his disciples the way, the Christian way, in testing times. That way is to sweat out our faithfulness again, through tears, pain, agony, prayer and sweat of blood. That prayer must always begin with our identity, where God is “Father”, which immediately recognizes ourselves as “sons and daughters”. And it must always end in a willing and humble submission to God’s will, despite our human nature to run away from pain – “not my will, but your will be done”.
To submit to God’s will involves making sacrifices, ultimately with your life if necessary. To really love, Jesus has shown, is to make sacrifices; that is agape love. To love is to move from pain to hope, from darkness to light, from death to new life. Then, we shall accept that pain and suffering is always part of the journey of life. Pain is always part of the path of Christian life – a love-centered spiritual path.
2. Second, we look at the disciples: What were the disciples instructed by Jesus to do?
Jesus repeatedly turned to the three apostles, Peter, James and John, who represent us, and instructed them to do two things: watch and pray. Why? So that we do not give in to temptations and do bad things.
What do the two words “watch and pray” imply?
To pray is to attend to the vertical dimension.
- It means that we have a God and we acknowledge this God and declare that we depend on Him for all of our needs. So to God, we submit our needs, our problems, and our human desires, and we ask God for help. We do not depend on human effort alone.
To watch is to attend to the horizontal dimension.
- It means to be awake, to be observant, to be conscious of what’s going on around us, to be mindful, to be careful, to watch out for all the traps, the evils, the temptations around us. These are the bad desires of other people that may be forced on us, so we need to watch out.
- But to watch also means we need to watch out for those temptations that come from inside of us. These are our own personal bad desires, our own evils, our own little “antus” on our human journey on earth.
- So Jesus says “watch out”, so that we do not let other people force their bad desires on us, and we do not force our bad desires on other people just to gain short-term pleasure and delight at their expense, even possibly long-term damage.
3. Third and finally, we turn to ourselves: What shall we do right here and now?
I suggest we bend our knees, stretch out our hands over the low metal barrier of thorns and touch the rock of agony.
- Talk to the Suffering Lord; he understands, for he has been there through all the human jubilation and trials. Tell him all your joys and sorrows, all your achievements and struggles, all your successes and failures, all your laughter and disappointments, all your hopes and broken dreams, all your life-trophies and your unfinished symphonies.
- Lift up to the Lord all your problems, all your hurts, all your grievances, and all your “bae-kam-guan” as we say in Kuching Hokkien. The Lord knows all this. Remember, Jesus Christ came to love, to serve and heal, and his enemies tortured and killed him. Oh, how they tortured him and killed him! He knows all about human grievances and “bae-kam-guans” alright. The Lord understands.
- No family is without pain. We are all wounded people. We are all sinners. The Lord wants to heal you. Leave all your pain with him, right here at the rock of agony – all your marriage problems and difficulties in your family, your children, your business and politics, office problems, financial problems, “cursed” addictions, health issues, pain of separation, pain of loss of loved ones, death in human relationships, and difficulties in the church community and so on. Leave them all with the Lord. When human persons fail you, when life fails you, turn to the Lord. Let the Suffering Messiah comfort you, and give you grace and peace.
May God bless us all.
(Postscript: Stories shared among pilgrims after Mass revealed that many slumped half their bodies over the low fence onto the rock, cried and left their tears on the rock surface that remained visible after they returned to their seats. For many, remembering the Lord, the “Rock of Agony” is both moving and healing.)
Copyright © Dr. Jeffrey & Angie Goh, March 2019. All rights reserved.
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