Gethsemane

Matthew 26:36-56

MatthewThen Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, "Sit here while I go over there and pray." He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, "My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.
Stay here and keep watch with me."

Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, "My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will." Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. "Could you men not keep watch with me for one hour?" he asked Peter. "Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the body is weak."

He went away a second time and prayed, "My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done."
When he came back, he again found them sleeping, because their eyes were heavy.

So he left them and went away once more and prayed the third time, saying the same thing. Then he returned to the disciples and said to them, "Are you still sleeping and resting? Look, the hour is near, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise, let us go! Here comes my betrayer!"

While he was still speaking, Judas, one of the Twelve, arrived. With him was a large crowd armed with swords and clubs, sent from the chief priests and the elders of the people. Now the betrayer had arranged a signal with them: "The one I kiss is the man; arrest him." Going at once to Jesus, Judas said, "Greetings, Rabbi!" and kissed him.

Jesus replied, "Friend, do what you came for."

Then the men stepped forward, seized Jesus and arrested him. With that, one of Jesus' companions reached for his sword, drew it out and struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his ear. "Put your sword back in its place," Jesus said to him, "for all who draw the sword will die by the sword. Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels? But how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way?"

At that time Jesus said to the crowd, "Am I leading a rebellion, that you have come out with swords and clubs to capture me? Every day I sat in the temple courts teaching, and you did not arrest me. But this has all taken place that the writings of the prophets might be fulfilled."

Then all the disciples deserted him and fled.
Commentary by Donald Senior, C.P.

The pace of the passion story begins to quicken. Jesus and his disciples leave the supper room and go to a secluded grove of olive trees (Luke locates Gethsemane on the Mount of Olives). There Jesus takes three of his disciples and begins a vigil of intense and anguished prayer. His words evoke Psalm 42--"My soul is sorrowful even to death" (26:38). The master who had taught his disciples the importance of direct, honest and trusting prayer (6:5-15) now prays with all his heart as he looks into the face of death. Jesus falls prostrate on the ground and opens his spirit to God: "My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet, not as I will, but as you will." (26:39). All of the mystery of Jesus is expressed in this prayer: a human being clinging to life and fearing death; a faithful child of God who places all of his future in the hands of a loving Father.

Three times Jesus' repeats his intense prayer. He had asked his disciples to keep vigil with him but they are overwhelmed with sleep and once more fail their master. Their sleep is symbolic of their spiritual torpor--they are not prepared for the fury of death that is about to sweep through Gethsamene and threaten the life of Jesus.

The storm of death arrives when Judas leads a large crowd armed with swords and clubs into the garden to arrest Jesus (26:47). Once again Matthew's Gospel gives special attention to this doomed disciple. With scorching irony a kiss becomes the sign of treachery. As he had at the supper, Judas masks his betrayal with seemingly innocent words: "Hail, Rabbi!" But Jesus sees deeply into the soul of Judas and even in the very instant of betrayal addresses him as "friend".

The armed mob takes Jesus captive but in a futile gesture one of the disciples draws a sword and severs the ear of the high priest's servant. In Matthew's account this becomes an opportunity for Jesus to teach. He warns the disciple not to return violence for violence--those who live by the sword die by the sword. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus had urged his disciples not to turn to violence (5:21-26, 38-42); a child of God must love even the enemy (5:43-48). If it were a simple matter of displays of power, God could overwhelm Jesus' attackers with legions of angels. But God's reign revealed in the scriptures would not be imposed by violence. Jesus' fidelity would take him into the valley of death but, ultimately, the scriptures would be fulfilled and love would defeat violence and death.

But for now the forces of evil seem to have the upper hand. Faced with that prospect the disciples succumb to fear and desert Jesus to his captors.

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