Jesus Prays on the Mount of Olives
39. Jesus went out as usual to the Mount of Olives, and his disciples followed him. 40. On reaching the place, he said to them, “Pray that you will not fall into temptation.” 41. He withdrew about a stone’s throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed, 42. “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” 43. An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him. 44. And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.
45. When he rose from prayer and went back to the disciples, he found them asleep, exhausted from sorrow. 46. “Why are you sleeping?” he asked them. “Get up and pray so that you will not fall into temptation.”
The Agony and The Ecstasy
I have long adored this passage. I often feel that many Christians picture Jesus as some kind of comic-book superhero, always knowing the right action to take and never hesitating to save the day. His words, his life and his actions are literally all perfect in their eyes. In my opinion, to think this way about Jesus is to limit his true glory, because what makes Jesus so powerful and inspiring (to me) is his common humanity.
He gets tired. He gets hungry. He gets cranky. He gets angry.
He gets scared.
Really, really scared.
I get scared, too. So do you. Fear is probably the most debilitating human emotion there is. Fear makes us hesitate to do things we should do, and makes us impulsively act in ways we should not! And the fact that THE exemplar of strength, love and wisdom, the Son of God himself, could experience paralyzing fear is, well… nothing short of amazing.
The bible describes his state in the Greek as agónia, which means personal fear and terror, but so unique in its exquisite character , that agónia is only used once in the entire New Testament! To drive the point home further, the Gospel of Luke the describes Jesus sweating “like drops of falling blood”, which could actually have been hematidrosis, a condition experienced by individuals when they encounter tremendous fear and anxiety, and they literally sweat their blood.
Hematidrosis (also called hematohidrosis) is a very rare condition in which a human sweats blood. It may occur when a person is suffering extreme levels of stress, for example, facing his or her own death. Several historical references have been described; notably by Leonardo da Vinci: describing a soldier who sweated blood before battle, men unexpectedly given a death sentence, as well as descriptions in the Bible, that Jesus experienced hematidrosis when he was praying in the garden of Gethsemane.
And through his debilitating fear, his agónia, Jesus was able to obtain ecstasy. No, not in the modern erotic sense, but ecstasy in the Greek root sense:
Ecstasy (or ekstasis; from the Ancient Greek ἔκστασις, “to be or stand outside oneself, a removal to elsewhere”.
To “stand outside of” himself was his ecstasy. To put what he was, what he wanted, what he needed, in submission to the needs of the greater good, the will of God, and the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth was his ecstasy. Through his agónia, his terror and doubt, he was able to step outside of his own “self”, and into one-ness with humanity and the will of God.
“…yet not my will, but yours be done.”
The Fear Temptation
Why did Jesus describe the purpose for his praying as “to avoid falling into temptation”? What is the temptation that fear brings?
Fear tempts all of us not to act. From helping a homeless stranger, to speaking out against abuse of women and children, to breaking up a fight, speaking a kind word to someone in pain… there are countless situations we all encounter in everyday life in which we could act, but most of us don’t. Why? Out of fear.
To not act for the sake of others is one of the most destructive and selfish traits in this world. Sure, it’s a great strategy for self-preservation, but as Jesus spent his entire ministry trying to teach us: it’s not about you! It is about US! And to allow fear to tempt you to only act for your best interests is to give in to the temptation of fear.
Greater Works For the Sake of Others
Through realizing our commonality with Jesus through empathy for his fear and pain, we can draw closer to God and closer to understanding Jesus. Through Jesus we come closer to understanding ourselves, our limitations and our gifts.
And if he, in all his “human-ness”, all his temptations, all of his instincts for self-preservation can accomplish such things, what am I capable of?
“Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.”
Greater works than Jesus?
If we trust in God, trust in Christ, and overcome our fears and the temptations of inaction… if we overcome the desire for recognition or reward… we can begin to selflessly love others and be we will be truly powerful agents of God’s will on Earth.
It’s what God wants. He wants you to act. Not to fear.
This is the prayer of one overcoming fear, overcoming self, for the sake of the Kingdom on Earth as it is in Heaven. This is the prayer of one in ecstasy (ekstasis):
“…yet not my will, but yours be done.”