13. Mark 14:32-34
They went to a place called Gethsemane; and he said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” He took with him Peter and James and John, and began to be distressed and agitated. And he said to them, “I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and keep awake.”
We are now on the down slope of this story, about to move inexorably to its climax and conclusion. But for just a moment, let’s pause and consider where this drama begins. Not in Gethemane, or at the Last Supper, or the Triumphal Entry, or even at Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan, where Mark’s account picks up. No. I’d argue the drama really begins with God’s decision to be joined to humanity fully in the person of Jesus the Christ. The story begins, that is, with the Incarnation.
Mark’s Gospel certainly doesn’t have the developed incarnational theology of John. Goodness, he doesn’t even give us stories of Jesus’ birth, like Matthew or Luke. But right here, in Gethsemane, we get a picture of what incarnation – literally, “in the flesh” – looks like. Jesus, God’s beloved Son and agent of redemption, is anxious, agitated, troubled, grieved, and afraid. He needs time alone, yet also wants his friends close by. He needs time alone in prayer, and he needs the company of others.
Can this really be the one the Church confesses is God’s only Son, the Word made flesh, the second person of the Trinity? If so, he makes a poor comparison with the other gods of the ancient world, gods of power and might, gods dreadful in the vengeance and terrible in their wrath.
But then, maybe that’s the point. Jesus reveals not God’s power but God’s heart, a heart laid open, laid bare, for us. Many have described Mark’s portrayal of Jesus as the most human, the one we can most readily identify with. He is afraid now and will cry out in despair later. These depictions are not what we expect from God, perhaps not even what we want. Until, that is, we are distraught, grieved unto death, and afraid. Until we also need to be alone and desperately want others nearby. Until we too throw ourselves in desperation to our knees in prayer. At those moments we need and crave a God not who is dreadful in vengeance and power but “gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love.”
We are now on the down slope, about to plunge headlong into the story the tradition rightly names Jesus’ passion, where we will see the passionate commitment that only a God could muster for God’s people and creation. It is right to pause in wonder.
Prayer: Dear God, thank you. Thank you for joining yourself to us in Jesus. Thank you for the fear, and the tears, and the grief. Because they are ours. Thank you for making them yours as well. Thank you for understanding us, and for saving us. Thank you. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Post Image: Praying at Gethsemane, by He Qi (2001)