Lenten Meditation on the Agony in the Garden

The first sorrowful mystery of the rosary recounts the time that Jesus spent in the Garden of Gethsemani, just after the Last Supper and just before his betrayal and trial.  In Matthew 26:36-46, we see (Knox translation, courtesy the New Advent website:

36 So Jesus came, and they with him, to a plot of land called Gethsemani; and he said to his disciples, Sit down here, while I go in there and pray. 37 But he took Peter and the sons of Zebedee with him. And now he grew sorrowful and dismayed; 38 My soul, he said, is ready to die with sorrow; do you abide here, and watch with me. 39 When he had gone a little further, he fell upon his face in prayer, and said, My Father, if it is possible, let this chalice pass me by; only as thy will is, not as mine is. 40 Then he went back to his disciples, to find them asleep; and he said to Peter, Had you no strength, then, to watch with me even for an hour? 41 Watch and pray, that you may not enter into temptation; the spirit is willing enough, but the flesh is weak. 42 Then he went back again, and prayed a second time; and his prayer was, My Father, if this chalice may not pass me by, but I must drink it, then thy will be done. 43 And once more he found his disciples asleep when he came to them, so heavy their eyelids were; 44 this time he went away without disturbing them, and made his third prayer, using the same words. 45 After that he returned to his disciples, and said to them, Sleep and take your rest hereafter; as I speak, the time draws near when the Son of Man is to be betrayed into the hands of sinners. 46 Rise up, let us go on our way; already, he that is to betray me is close at hand.

This episode centers on obedience.  You have the perfect example of Jesus, true God and true man, being obedient to the will of the Father.  In essence, He is showing us that human nature finds its fulfillment through submitting to divine will.  The prayer, which was repeated three times, was that “Thy will be done.”  As St. Thomas says in the Summa (3rd part, question 21, article 1), “Nevertheless, being both God and man, He wished to offer prayers to the Father, not as though He was incompetent, but for our instruction.”  Every time Jesus prays, it is an illustration to us of how we ought to pray, that is, unfold our will to God.  In the Agony in the Garden, the prayer cuts to the essence:  Thy will be done.  Jesus is fully submitting his (human) will to that of the Father, even though he knows exactly what is coming.

We also have an example of halfhearted obedience in the apostles who accompany him.  Peter, James, and John, the ones who were on the mountain at the Transfiguration, also accompany Jesus to the garden. They obey Jesus’ request to follow, but cannot seem to obey the call to remain awake “even for an hour.”  They get part way there, but are not completely obedient to the will of God.  Notice that He rouses them once, but the second time He checks on them, He lets them sleep.  God never forces our will to confirm with His; it must be a voluntary submission on our part.

Part of my goal this Lent is to be obedient to God.  In a very simple way, this means living my station in life to the best of my ability.  God will give the graces I need to do it, I just have to be obedient to receive them.

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