(This year for Lent I decided to blog about matters of faith.)
Intermittently for a couple of years now, Gethsemane has been on my mind, and I’m not really sure why. What I do know is that I find it the most moving passage in the Bible. More so than the crucifixion, more so than the death of Lazarus. More so than anything else.
Maybe I’ve just missed all the right homilies or something, but it is strange to me that Gethsemane is not mentioned more often when discussing Jesus’s human nature. It is, in my opinion, by far his most human moment. More so than kicking over tables in the Temple, more so than when he wept. Righteous anger and sorrowful empathy are qualities we’ve long associated with Gods/God. But anxiety? No. Uncertainty, the desire to escape, soul-deep levels of stress? No. This the province of Man, not God.
But what gets me is, Jesus asks for so little for himself. He asks a lot from us, for us. But rarely does he express anything like a selfish desire. At the wedding of Cana he tells his mother that it isn’t his time. His wish to put off everything that will happen once the ball gets rolling is human. Of course, if we wait until we are ready to begin anything we will never begin. It’s why we have people in our lives who push us forward.
Jesus’s journey as the Christ is bookended at both ends with these exceedingly rare moments of self-interest. At the beginning, at Cana, he wants more time. At the end, in Gethsemane, he wants exactly the same thing – more time. He is denied on both occasions.
However, at Cana there isn’t it the sorrow, stress, and anxiety that there is in Gethsemane. That moment has always been vibrantly alive in my imagination. The cool of the night, the pale dusty ground, the moonlight on the olive trees, the outline of the mountains in the distance. Utter silence. The beauty of the surroundings at odds with the dread sitting heavy in Jesus’s gut as he contemplates what tomorrow will bring. Just like any of us facing something inevitable and horrific, he hopes in vain that maybe reality will shift. It doesn’t. Jesus is the one who works miracles for others. Miracles are not for him.
But I still haven’t gotten to the heart of the issue.
Jesus asks his disciples to stay up and pray with him. It is such a small ask, and yet they’re unable to find the fortitude, the wisdom, the generosity, to comply. Instead, they fall asleep. And Jesus feels betrayed, angry, and abandoned. There is no moment more human in the Bible than this one. We fail each other relentlessly, and the hurt of that failure is as germane to being human as is eating. If you live long enough, and not even very long at that, others will hurt you. More than that, those who are supposed to be there for you will fail you, and you will be alone.
Every day I see people living in Gethsemane. If you don’t, then apparently you’re not on Facebook.
Ironically, I think one of the ways we worsen this experience is by seeking to protect ourselves against it. In particular, I see people try to find perfect shelter in romantic love. “If I find the right man, I will never feel alone again.” We put a tremendous amount of burden upon our partners these days. I believe this is because so many of us have lost a strong mooring in our families and communities, and we try to make one person become all things. More importantly, instead of relying on God for our strength, we rely on one person. I know I did this prior to getting married, and I know I’m not the only one who has. Of course, you can’t know what lies outside of your education and experience. Life is a process, to paraphrase my good friend Charlie Grey. And to close with a quote from my mother, “Be kind to yourself.”