112- In the Garden of Gethsemane

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That night of Thursday, the 13th of Nissan, Jesus’ mother and the women remained in Mark’s house, with the windows shut. Our Paschal supper was finished in a hurry. There were still some pieces of lamb left on the plates and on the straw mats. The cups still glowed with the wine we were unable to drink… When we learned of what Judas did, we hurriedly left the place, hiding ourselves in the shadows….

Andrew: Do you think these bandits will recognize us…? Hik…!

Peter: Hell! You’re drunk…

John: Well, look at Thomas…

Peter: Silence them, James!… They’re risking our lives!

Mark: Don’t run, guys!… Disperse!… Stay close to the walls!

The streets were dark. Mark, who was walking in front with Jesus and Peter, was showing us the best way, so as not to arouse suspicion. We were leaving the barrio of Zion behind…. The houses where the Galileans lived were still lighted and the Paschal songs could still be heard in the streets… We left Jerusalem through the gate of the Valley, edging our way through the walls toward the Cedron river… Not even a cloud could be seen above. The full moon, motionless, watched over the night in the middle of the sky…

Nathanael: Do you think they’re following us, Philip?… I’m scared.

Philip: So am I, Nat. I don’t think we’re gonna make it.

Nathanael: According to Jesus, it is at this moment that God will stick out his hand for us…

Philip: God or the soldiers, whoever comes first…

With cautious steps we crossed the small bridge over the Cedron… The garden of Gethsemane was almost at the foot of the slope of the Mount of Olives, where Mark had a piece of land which he in¬herited from his grandparents… Among those old and twisted trees, we would spend the Paschal night in hiding, sheltered in some caves….

Mark: Guys, I think we’ll be safe here… Before the cock crows, we can head towards the north…

Jesus: I’ve said it, Mark, I’m not going back to Galilee.

John: Well, if you stay, Jesus, so do I…

Peter: C’mon, John, don’t be silly…

John: Go to hell, delinquent, I think we have to….

Mark: Stop it. Now is not the time to argue. Look, Moreno, you still have a few hours to decide….

John: Okay, I’ll stay here as watchman. I’ve got a sword. Who’s gonna join me?… How about you, Peter?

Peter: Sure, John. I’ve got the other sword with me. You, James, stay and watch too.

Mark: Okay, the three of you, as sentinels… I don’t think something’s gonna happen, but just in case…. The rest may get some sleep over there, among the rocks, just be alert, will you?

Andrew: No, no, no…. I’m not going to sleep without you first telling me where the hell has Judas gone… I want to know right now…!

Peter: Hell, skinny!… Will you shut up and go to sleep… it might sober you up!… Dammit, where could that Iscariot be?… That’s what everybody wants to know…

At this time, Judas was in a rambling hut in barrio Ophel, and talking with one of the zealot leaders…

Zealot: What’re you waiting for, man? Barabbas is already in action, organizing the assault for tomorrow. Now it’s your turn. Go to the Sanhedrin and do your act. You’ve got to start there. The rest will follow.

Judas: I hate doing this.

Zealot: We know. You’ve said it seventy times and we believe you, man. It’s the price you’ve got to pay to help start the uprising. Each one has a role to play. Tomorrow, you’ll see, when Jerusalem awakes and finds out about the arrest of the Nazarene… That will be a grand day! We won’t stop until we have driven the Romans away from here…

Judas: In the meantime, in the eyes of everyone, I’m a traitor…

Zealot: Traitor?… The moment we are free, everyone will be grate¬¬-ful for what you have done. C’mon, Judas, go and see the chief guard of the Temple and tell them they’re in the house of this Mark…

Peter, James and I acted as guards with our swords unsheathed. The night was cool…. Close to us, hidden among the rocks, were the rest who were able to steal some sleep. Wrapped up in their cloaks, they were even snoring. Without his tunic but wrapped up in an old sheet, Mark slept beside a little hut which housed the oil press… Jesus was seated on a rock, cupping his head with his hands… He did not want to sleep… The crickets were the only voices heard during the night….

Jesus: Why would Judas do such a thing?… I don’t understand… I just don’t get it…. We’ve been together for so long… Since that day we met in Nazareth… We’ve been working for many months, proclaiming the Kingdom of God… and now this!… What could’ve happened, Judas?… What wrong have I done to you?… Were you betrayed by our group?… We trusted you… why didn’t you trust us?… Why did you fail us, buddy? Why did I let you leave Mark’s house? Why didn’t I intervene?… Why did I allow you to squeal on us?… Oh damn! Why?!…

Commandant: Come in, friend. We’ve been waiting for you. You said, tonight….

Judas: I kept my word. I know where he is.

Commandant: Is he alone?

Judas: With a handful of friends.

Commandant: Are they armed?

Judas: Just a couple of old swords.

Commandant: What’s your signal to my men, so that they won’t make a mistake?

Judas: I’ll go near him and greet him with a kiss.

Commandant: Okay. Then, as per our agreement. When the Nazarene is in our hands, you get your remaining 30 shekels. But if this is a hoax, then, prepare your head, parrot.

Judas: I’m not lying. Let’s go.

Commandant: After you, Iscariot. Hey, guards, ready!…

So, Judas of Iscariot left the patio of Caiphas’ palace beside the chief guard of the Temple. They were followed by a group of soldiers armed with swords and clubs. The torches illuminated the already deserted streets of the barrio of Zion… There in Gethsemane, James, Peter and I were reclining on the trunk of an old olive tree. The air smelled of humid earth during the night… Jesus came to us with a scared look in his eyes…

Jesus: Don’t you hear that noise…?

John: Ahummm… What noise, Moreno?

Jesus: They seem like footsteps… coming from there…

Peter: It’s probably a vixen in search of her den. Don’t worry, man, we’re safer in this garden than being under the wings of cherubims!

John: Are you all right, Jesus?… You look pale. Come, get some sleep. We’ll watch over you…

Jesus: I’m scared, John. I feel anguish… as if a hand was trying to choke me and I couldn’t breathe….

Peter: Come, Moreno, sit down and let’s talk. This will take away your fear.

Jesus sat in a squatting position beside us… He looked at us with sadness, like he was asking for help, I dunno…. As for the three of us, our eyes were already getting heavy with sleep.

Jesus: Remember that night in the north, in Caesarea? It was a night like this… I was scared… I felt I couldn’t handle the burden…. You encouraged me a lot… You promised you wouldn’t leave me…. that we would fight together, always as a group…. Indeed my friends, you encouraged me a lot… Tonight I need… I dunno… I need to be assured that everything is worth the effort… that it’s worth continuing the struggle…

John: Jesus, that night you told us that… that….

James, Peter and I had fallen asleep. The Moreno’s words drifted from us in the dark and vanished in the heaviness of our sleep…. Then Jesus moved away from us about a stone’s throw away and sat on a rock. Beyond the Cedron, Jerusalem was radiant with the moonlight and was completely white….

Jesus: What a bad time to have gotten into this mess. I should have stayed in Nazareth… I should have lived life in my own way… with my own house… some children… a wife… like anyone else… I could have had a daily job… the simple joy of each day… My mother would have been very happy taking care of her grandchildren… It was the wrong time to go to the Jordan and meet John the prophet, and be baptized by him…! No, it wasn’t John… it was you, Lord… you are behind all this… you pushed me into this… you got hold of me, and you were stronger… You lured me into this… and I allowed myself to be lured… You have put words, burning like ember, into my mouth… I wanted to put them off, but I couldn’t… they seeped into my whole being like fire, even burning my bones… I grabbed the plow into my hand at the wrong time!… Now it’s too late to turn back… No, I still have time. I’ve got to flee, get away from here… Peter and the rest are setting out for Galilee tomorrow…. Yeah, that’ll be better… I’ll go with them too…. Why should I stay, anyway?… I’ll go back to the north and hide myself in the village… or in the mountain, or under the rocks, if necessary… I want them to forget about me and I’ll forget every¬-thing that has happened… Oh yes, that’s what I’m going to do…!

During this time, Judas who was leading the guards, arrived at Mark’s house…

Judas: Dammit, they’re not here! Where the hell have they gone?

Mary: Judas, Judas, wait, don’t go away…! Judas!

In the street…

Judas: Which way did they go, old woman…?

Old Woman: That way, son, toward the Cedron, but I…

Judas: Hey, soldiers, this way, come over here!

The bent olive trees cast their shadows over the ground. In the east, a few clouds rapidly crossed the sky, suddenly concealing the creamy moonlight. Darkness veiled the whole garden, the old oil press and the sleeping bodies… From afar, the shrieking sounds of the nocturnal birds served as a warning during the night…. It was not cold, but Jesus started to tremble… He stood up from the rock where he was seated and once again came toward us… Deep in my sleep, I felt his halting steps…

Jesus: Peter!… John!…

Our eyes opened… only to close again…. We were totally exhausted… Jesus moved away and disappeared among the olive trees…

Jesus: Father! If my time has come, give me strength… give me the courage not to respond to their violence with violence…. If they put me on trial, give me the right words to accuse them in court…. If they torture me, silence me so as not to give my companions away…. They want to kill me, Father…. but I don’t wish to die…. Not yet! Not yet! I don’t want to die, I don’t want to die…!! Give me time, Lord!… I need time to finish the job!… I still have to open the eyes of the people… to announce the good news to the poor… Our group has barely started to move… no, no, I cannot fail now, I can’t… Father, they want to silence us, to drown the voice of those who clamor for justice…. Let your will be done, not theirs! Let not the powerful and the blood-thirsty win, but you, the God of the poor, our Protector!… Stretch out your hand, Father! Help us, the humble of this world, always defeated… if not, strike me from your book!… Yes, I know that if the grain of wheat does not fall into the soil and die, it doesn’t give any fruit… I myself said it and the spirit understood… but when the time comes, the flesh trembles… I’m scared, Father… I’m scared… At least, give me a sign…. Yes, a sign, a proof that you have not deceived me, that this struggle has not been in vain…. You gave Gideon a sign before leaving for battle… You showed Jeremiah a branch of an almond tree…. Look at that branch, Lord, the branch of that tree… if that olive tree could bloom and yield a white flower immediately as a sign of peace… Answer me, Lord!… Why do you remain silent?… Am I asking too much? You asked more from me!… You asked me to leave my land and my parents… I spoke for your sake, I was angry for your sake at the powerful of this world and I shouted in the plaza and in the streets and I did not sit with liars to eat with them…. I am left alone because of you… I have lost everything, thinking about you… Can’t you at least give me a sign?… Not even that?… Speak up and answer me!! Or is everything a mirage, like the mirage in the desert…?

Jesus bent and put his face to the ground, and desperately scratched the stones with his hands and nails…. At that same moment, Judas of Iscariot, followed by a troop of soldiers, crossed the Cedron. The soldiers penetrated the dark and took their position along the slope of the Mount of Olives….

*Comments*
In order to get to the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus and his disciples crossed the Cedron Torrent. The Cedron is a depression or a narrow valley surrounding Jerusalem on the eastern side. It is formed by several streams. Usually it was dry and water flowed through it only during winter. The lands near the Cedron were particularly fertile since within this torrent flowed the blood of the victims sacrificed in the Temple. The outlet for the blood started by the side of the altar and flowed through the Cedron underground. The animal blood was good fertilizer for the soil.

Gethsemane was a garden composed of several gardens extending through the fertile slopes of the Mount of Olives, separated from Jerusalem by the Cedron. In Aramaic, Gethsemane means “oil press,” probably because of the presence in this area of olive presses for the trees growing on the mountain. At present, a big church is constructed at the foot of this Mount, in memory of the place where Jesus prayed. In the center of the temple is preserved the so-called “rock of agony,” in traditional veneration of the place where Jesus was supposed to have prayed that night. In the church’s garden one can still find several millenarian olive trees, which could be offspring of those which grew on the Mount during Jesus’ time. From the seed of the fruit of these very old trees, religious souvenirs for tourists, especially as rosaries, are made.

In Gethsemane, sensing an imminent violent death, Jesus experienced a variety of contradictory feelings. It was a decisive moment involving Jesus’ commitment of faith. He had never felt so vulnerable and never would his faithfulness be more painfully strengthened. The Letter to the Hebrews speaks to us of the tears he shed as he begged his Father to save him from death (Heb 5:5-10).

In his prayer in the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus’ will to live does not contest the will of God regarding his death. Otherwise, the God described to us by Jesus would be only an executioner who could be appeased only by the blood of his son, in addition to playing accomplice to the powerful of this world. A monstrous image of God. It is impossible to see in this god the “Abba,” the “papa” of Jesus. God did not kill his Son, nor send him to die. God did not wish this death. If we accepted these fallacies, then the real assassins would be excused from their guilt. No, God is the God of life and the living. God never desires death. To a certain point, he will oppose this death of Jesus whom he will resurrect.

The will that Jesus wishes to accept is the will of God. Neither does he ask his Father to enable him to overcome the weakness he feels at that moment, but to strengthen his fragile will as a man who was afraid, who was losing hope and getting desperate.

All prophets experience these feelings in their lives, and they turn to God. Jesus’ prayer in this episode captures the distressful words of the prophet Jeremiah (Jer 15:15-18 and 20:7-9) and Moses’ clamor, when he spoke with God face to face, claiming from him the liberation of Israel (Ex 32:32; Num 11:11-15). These are the prayers of the prophet, a bridge between his brothers and sisters for whom he feels responsible, and God, for whom he knows he is has accepted the role of messenger.

(Mt 26:36-44; Mk 14:32-40; Lk 22:39-46)

112- In the Garden of Gethsemane

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