Best of Daily Reflections: Experiencing the Prayerful Agony of Jesus, Part 1
He walked away, about a stone’s throw, and knelt down and prayed.
Luke 22:39-46 briefly narrates Jesus’ prayerful agony in the Garden of Gethsemane. In fact, Luke does not mention this garden by name, preferring to say that Jesus prayed “about a stone’s throw” from the Mount of Olives. We know from other sources, for example, Mark 14:32, that this was, in fact, a garden at the base of the Mount of Olives. In this garden, Jesus poured out his heart before his Heavenly Father with great agony (22:44).
This past summer, I had the privilege of walking from the top of the Mount of Olives down to the Garden of Gethsemane. The garden is still a place of quiet, with ancient olive trees and modest landscaping. The trees are, in all likelihood, not exactly the same trees that covered Jesus when he prayed, since the original trees were destroyed by the Romans when they laid siege to Jerusalem prior to its destruction in A.D. 70. Yet, it may be that the existing trees grew from the roots of those that were present in the time of Jesus. (You may be interested in my photos of Gethsemane and the surrounding area) Notice the extraordinary size of the trunks of the olive trees. That shows how old they are.)
I found it deeply moving to be in the place where Jesus prayed on the night before his crucifixion. The quiet of this location provides a striking contrast to the assaultive bustle of Jerusalem today, not to mention the distressed agony of Jesus’ heart as he prayed.
A friend of mine experienced a profound transformation when he visited Gethsemane some years ago. A man of mature faith and strong intellect, "Jeff” began to weep uncontrollably when he came to the garden. In that place, he sensed in a way he never had before the reality of Jesus’ suffering and the depth of his love. Jeff would say that his life and faith have never been the same since his visit to Gethsemane.
You and I cannot go there today (unless you happen to be in Jerusalem). But we can allow Luke’s narrative to draw us into a deeper experience of Jesus’ agony in Gethsemane. By the Spirit, we can sense the grief of our Lord, even his hesitancy concerning his messianic destiny. I’ll have more to say about this later. For now, I would invite you to let the text of Scripture draw you closer to the Lord in his time of trial.
QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER REFLECTION: What helps you to “get inside” biblical stories? How do you understand and envision the events in our passage today? How do you picture Jesus as he prays? What does this say to you?
PRAYER: Lord Jesus, the story of your prayer in the garden is so familiar that I can easily miss its depth and power. I don’t want to be like your disciples, metaphorically sleeping while you’re praying with such agony. Rather, I want to be there with you, sharing in your grief. Help me, I pray, to be drawn into this story in a fresh way, so that I might know you and your love more profoundly and truly.
All praise be to you, my Lord and Savior. Amen.