Bible Review 14:2, April 1998

What Really Happened at Gethsemane?

By Jerome Murphy-O’Connor

The scene has stimulated the imagination of great painters. The light of a full moon accentuates the shadows in a garden at the foot of the Mount of Olives. A lonely figure prays in anguish. Deep in careless sleep, his companions ignore his agony. The swords of the approaching soldiers appear on the horizon. The tension is palpable.

Jesus’ prayer in Gethsemane is one of the most soul-wrenching episodes in the Gospels: “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me. Yet, not as I will but as you (will)” (Matthew 26:39).

If the Transfiguration—the moment when Jesus is mystically transformed in the presence of Moses and Elijah—presents Jesus at his highest, here we see him at his lowest. The radiant Lord who stood erect on a mountain peak now struggles for light in the desolation of night. The disciples who were so attentive at the Transfiguration and begged to prolong the golden moment, do not want to hear or see what is happening to Jesus here.

These contrasting images bear reflection. We like to bask in the glory of the superhuman Jesus of the Transfiguration.a He is a savior to be proud of. We do not want to deal with a savior consumed by loneliness, desperate fear and uncertainty. These traits are far too human. Nonetheless, this is the real Jesus.

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