In his Gospel, Mark quickly and resolutely draws Jesus to the Cross. Often referred to as the Passion Narrative with a brief introduction, Mark’s Gospel focuses most of its attention to the final hours of Jesus’ life. As we listen to this narrative on Passion Sunday, we are struck by the many simple and yet powerful nuanced meanings, expressions and moments within the narrative.
While each of the disciples has his role within those last days of Jesus’ life, there is a specific moment when Mark clearly states that Jesus took Peter, James and John off with himself yet again. Just a few weeks ago, on the Second Sunday of Lent, Jesus took these same three disciples with him to the top of the mountain where he was transfigured before them. There, as you recall, a glorified Jesus was engaged with Moses and Elijah as the great theologoumenon: “This is my beloved Son” echoes from heaven.
Atop the mountain Peter, James, and John were asleep.
While all of the disciples accompany Jesus across the Kidron Valley to Gethsemane, Peter, James and John accompany Jesus further into the place. There Jesus prays with an intensity we have not seen elsewhere in the Gospels, pleading with the Father: “Abba, Father, all things are possible to you. Take this cup away from me, but not what I will but what you will.”
At the place called Gethsemane, Peter, James and John were asleep.
According to an ancient tradition the Transfiguration occurred 40 days before the Crucifixion. Each moment points to and defines the other.
Jesus’ prayer at Gethsemane is deeply personal. The “Beloved Son” cries out to the Father using the informal, indeed childhood term “Abba,” best rendered as “daddy” or even “dada.” It is not so much that Jesus does not want to complete the mission, but he recognizes the horror of the suffering he will endure over the next day. Jesus explains clearly to his disciples: “The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.” The Son revealed at the Transfiguration is both God and man. It is Jesus the man, the human, who fears the suffering and the agony, as well as the agony and pain to be inflicted on those around him. As a Palestinian Jew, Jesus was well-acquainted with the horror of crucifixion. He and his disciples would certainly have passed by Golgotha on their way into and out of the city. While Jesus tried to prepare his disciples for the inevitability of his own Crucifixion, we now encounter Jesus struggling with his own doubts and fears in the facing of his pending Death.
The disciples, asleep and unaware, have no sense of the depth of the struggle. They are unaware now, as they have been throughout most of their time with Jesus, of the totality of his mission.
The humanity of Jesus, which we hear so clearly enunciated in the Second Reading, his humanity, his fear, his weakness, his struggle, serves as a source of strength, of hope, and of consolation, to us in our own human weakness.
Although it was night and the vast openness of the Judean wilderness was just a few hundred yards over the hill, Jesus chose to remain there instead of deciding to flee.
All of us are confronted with the reality of suffering and death in our own lives. None of us can escape pain. In those moments of weakness Jesus, stands before us and with us, as the example of how when our own flesh is weak, the power of the Spirit will give us the strength and the courage to persevere in faith, as we open ourselves to the grace that the Lord sets before us.[[In-content Ad]]
Father Garry Koch is pastor of St. Benedict Parish, Holmdel.