Gethsemane– a word almost universally recognized and filled with meaning like few others—is the subject of the February video and blog.
They went to a place called Gethsemane; and he said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray (Mark 14:32).
Its 1st century use as an olive orchard located on the Mount of Olives gave the garden its name and meaning, gath shemane being Hebrew for ‘oil press’. While Luke’s Gospel certainly recounts this momentous night of prayer, he refers to the larger area, the Mount of Olives.
Luke also gives us a hint of how often Jesus must have gone to this peaceful garden, so close to Jerusalem yet with the Kidron Valley between to provide some distance from the urban clamor.
He came out and went, as was his custom, to the Mount of Olives; and the disciples followed him (Luke 22:39).
In fact, the frequency of Jesus’ retreats there to pray are why scholars believe Judas knew where to tell the Jewish authorities to find him later that night.
One can’t help but wonder if Jesus, on this night or previous ones of prayer, thought also of David’s experience on the Mount of Olives. Knowing the Hebrew Scriptures and identified as the prophesied Messiah and ‘Son of David’, Jesus must have been familiar with the story of David fleeing to this sacred place as he was forced to escape Jerusalem. Absalom was out to kill David and take the throne, so with family and loyal friends around him, the Bible relates David also paused here at a critical moment:
David walked up the road to the Mount of Olives, weeping as he went. His head was covered and his feet were bare as a sign of mourning. And the people who were with him covered their heads and wept as they climbed the hill (II Sam 15:30).
The Gospels reveal Gethsemane as the lowest point of Jesus’ earthly career, evidenced by what Matthew relates he told his disciples:
My soul is crushed with grief to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me (Matt 26:38).
Yet Gethsemane also represents that consummate moment of self-surrender that shines as a model for all who want to yield to God’s will for their lives:
My Father! If this cup cannot be taken away–unless I drink it, your will be done (Matt 26:42-43).
More than any place in Israel I’ve traveled, Gethsemane is ‘holy ground’. A wall surrounding these ancient olive trees, still bearing fruit, helps Christian pilgrims pray quietly where the Master prayed, look across the Valley to Jerusalem, and hope that their lives provide even a fraction of the healing oil of his.