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A Practical Commentary On Holy Scripture by Frederick Justus Knecht D.D.

[Luke 22:39–46]

WHEN Jesus had said these things, He went forth with His disciples over the brook Cedron to a place called Gethsemani, on the Mount of Olives, where there was a garden, into which He entered (Fig. 85). Then He said to His disciples: “Sit you here while I go yonder and pray.” And taking with Him Peter, James and John, He advanced into the garden. He began to be sorrowful and said to them: “My soul is sorrowful even unto death; stay ye here and watch with Me!”


Fig. 85. Garden of Gethsemani, Jerusalem. (Phot. Bonfils.)

Then going a little further (Fig. 86), He fell upon His Face, saying: “My Father, if it be possible, let this chalice pass from Me. Nevertheless, not as I will, but as Thou wilt.”


Fig. 86. Grotto of the Agony, Jerusalem. (Phot. Bonfils.)

And rising up, He came to His disciples, and finding them asleep, He said to Peter: “Could you not watch one hour with Me? Watch ye and pray, that ye enter not into temptation. The spirit, indeed, is willing, but the flesh is weak.”

And going a second time, He prayed, saying: “My Father, if this chalice cannot pass away, except I drink it, Thy will be done!” He came back and found His disciples sleeping; and leaving them, He went away again, and prayed a third time in the same words as before. Then He fell into an agony, and His sweat became as drops of blood, trickling down to the ground. And, behold, an angel appeared to Him from heaven, strengthening Him.

Then, going a third time to His apostles, He found them still asleep. He said to them: “Sleep now, and take your rest. Behold, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man shall be betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise, let us go. Behold, he is at hand that will betray Me!”

Our Blessed Lord suffered in His human nature. Contemplate Jesus in the garden of Gethsemani, lying on His face under the olive-trees, in the darkness of night, sighing, praying and sweating blood! Behold Him who fills earth with gladness, and heaven with wonder, in deepest anguish. He who but a short time before was consoling His apostles is now Himself full of sorrow. He who promised help to them is now weak Himself, and asks them to help Him. He who has dried the eyes of so many now sheds tears of Blood. The mighty Wonder-worker is prostrate and trembling, and His Heart is well-nigh breaking for very woe. The Soul of Him who commanded the winds and the waves is now overwhelmed with trouble and anguish. How is this extraordinary change to be explained? In order to understand our Lord’s Agony in the garden, and His Sufferings which followed it, you must remember that the divine nature of our Lord Jesus Christ could not suffer, and that it was only His human nature which could suffer and die; and, moreover, that His human nature, being inseparably united to His divine nature, could only suffer as much, and for as long, as He willed it to suffer. He entered on His Passion of His own will, and did not allow torment and fear to take possession of His Heart till He had left His eight apostles at a distance, and had near Him only those three who had been prepared for the sight of Him in His hour of abasement, by the vision of His glory on Mount Thabor. But in order that the human nature might suffer, the Divinity abandoned it to itself and, as it were, withdrew from it, and deprived it of all inward consolation, as we see in the narrative. To such an extent did He abase Himself that He even sought consolation from creatures, the apostles and angels. At the very beginning of His Passion He wished to leave us no room for doubt that He as Man felt and suffered everything acutely, and that fear, pain and horror caused Him as much anguish as they could cause an ordinary man. He therefore testified to His heavenly Father that His human nature abhorred its fearful torments, and wished to be freed from them; the thrice repeated prayer: “Take this chalice from Me!” shows this to us.

The causes of our Lord’s profound sadness and terrible agony of mind were as follows:

1. He saw before Him the many and inhuman torments which awaited Him. He pictured all these terrible sufferings, enduring them in anticipation. How would you feel at this moment if you were told that you were to be slowly tortured to death to-morrow? Human nature shrinks from death, and especially from a violent death. The most painful as well as the most ignominious of deaths awaited our Lord, the prospect of which filled His Soul with horror, for He was truly man, like to us in all things, sin only excepted. As Man, He prayed to His Father: “Let this chalice pass”; but there being no sinful rebelliousness in His human will, it remained in full submission to the divine will, and He added: “Nevertheless, not as I will, but as Thou wilt”.

2. Our Blessed Lord took the sins of men on Himself, so as to offer satisfaction to the divine justice in their stead. Now that He was on the point of completing His work of Redemption, the horrible mass of evil, abomination and guilt came before His holy Soul and filled it with abhorrence and aversion. “Him, that knew no sin, for us God hath made sin, that we might be made the justice of God in Him” (2 Cor. 5:21). What a horror it must have been to the Most Holy, the Most Pure One, to feel Himself laden with the sins of the whole world, the sins of pride, lust, avarice &c.! If sorrow for the shameful ingratitude of sin could make Magdalen and Peter weep bitter tears, what a detestation of sin must He have felt who alone knew its malice to the full! “Jesus saw all our individual sins, and grieved over them as if He Himself had committed them, for He had taken on Himself the burden of them all. Truly, the grief of this alone would have killed Him, if He had not held back His soul, in order that He might endure still more, and drink the chalice of suffering to the very dregs. He would not die on the Mount of Olives, because His life was to be sacrificed on Calvary; but He shed His Blood, the bloody sweat of His agony, in order to show us that sin alone, without the help of any executioner, was sufficient to strike His death-blow” (Bossuet). Many indeed are the tears which have been caused, since the Fall of our first parents, by sin and the consequences of sin, but never such tears as these; for “His sweat became as drops of blood trickling down upon the ground”. No one can understand, as did our Blessed Lord, the utter malice, baseness, and ingratitude of sin. Oh, would that the sweat of blood, forced from our dear Lord’s veins by His sorrow for the sins of men, could serve to make us more sorry for having sinned, and more determined to hate and avoid sin for the future!

3. Our Lord knew beforehand how many souls would be eternally lost in spite of His bitter Passion and Death, because they would not believe in Him and would not love Him. This knowledge made the chalice most bitter, and tortured His Sacred Heart, for He loved men’s immortal souls so dearly that He had come down from heaven to save them from eternal damnation. This was why He sighed and prayed in such an agony; it was not for Himself alone, but for His brethren, so many of whom, whatever He might do, would cast themselves into hell. He was willing to be bound, scourged, crowned with thorns, and nailed to the Cross to save the souls which were made to His own image; and yet He knew that for very many His Precious Blood and His Sufferings would be wasted. This it was that caused the keenest anguish to the Heart of Jesus, all on fire with love for men!

How to bear suffering. Look at our dear Lord, suffering such agony of soul for love of us! There He lies, with His Face on the ground, groaning in spirit and trembling in His agony. Around Him is the darkness of night, and within His Heart unspeakable woe. He is alone. His disciples are asleep, and nowhere can He find consolation! Now what did Jesus do in this time of extreme affliction and abandonment? He prayed to His heavenly Father, and resigned Himself entirely to His will. Thus should we do. If we are in grief, or fear, or need, we ought to turn to God, from whom alone we can obtain comfort and help, and humbly submit ourselves to His holy will.

The Qualities of prayer. Our Blessed Lord’s example teaches us also how we ought to pray. In the Garden of Gethsemani He prayed with devotion,—humility,—confidence,—submission to God’s will,—and perseverance: 1. with devotion; for He prayed from the very bottom of His Heart, and retired a little way from His apostles so that He might pray undisturbed; 2. with exterior and interior humility; for He fell on His Face, humbling Himself in the dust before the majesty of His Eternal Father; 3. with confidence; for He began His prayer with the loving words: “My Father”; 4. with submission to the will of God; for He left the granting of His petition entirely in the Hands of His heavenly Father: “Not as I will”, said He, “but as Thou wilt”; 5. with perseverance; for He said the same prayer over and over again. Even though He received no visible answer to His petition, He did not leave off praying, but rather “prayed the longer”.

Watchfulness. In the midst of His agony Jesus thought more of His own than of Himself. He went back several times to His disciples and urgently exhorted them to watch and pray, that they might not enter into temptation. This exhortation given by our Lord such a short time before His Death is a very important one, and applied not only to the apostles, but to all Christians. You have been told over and over again that prayer is necessary; but prayer alone is not sufficient, unless it be united to watchfulness. Watch and pray! This is what Jesus, the great Searcher of hearts, tells us we must do. We are very weak and very prone to evil; so we must keep a careful watch over our thoughts and imaginations, over the movements and desires of our hearts, and over our senses, especially over our eyes. By so doing we shall either avoid what is sinful, or else be able to overcome it in its very beginnings. By watchfulness we shall escape many temptations, and come victorious out of those struggles with sin which are unavoidable.

Could the chalice have passed? Yes! Satisfaction could have been made to the divine justice without such terrible suffering on the part of our Blessed Lord; for each act of expiation, each suffering of Jesus, He being God, had an infinite value. His very smallest suffering would therefore have been sufficient to pay off the whole debt of sin and appease the justice of God. But what was sufficient to reconcile us to God, was not sufficient to cleanse us inwardly from sin and make us keep from sin. Not only has the guilt of sin to be removed, but sinful man, who is steeped in evil, must be completely cured. What would the satisfaction made for us by our Divine Lord avail us, if we still loved and cherished sin in our hearts, and persisted in sinning more and more till we died in our sins? Nothing! Thus the bitter chalice did not pass, and our Blessed Lord suffered indescribable agony in Soul and Body, in the first place, to put before our eyes in a startling manner the evil and horror of sin. Isaias (55:4 &c.) had said of Him: “Surely He hath borne our infirmities and carried our sorrows; and we have thought Him as it were a leper, and as one struck by God and afflicted. But He was wounded for our iniquities, He was bruised for our sins: the chastisement of our peace was upon Him, and by His bruises we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray, every one hath turned aside unto his own way, and the Lord hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all.” The scourges which tore the Flesh of Jesus, the thorns which lacerated His Sacred Head, the nails which pierced His Hands and Feet, in short, all the tortures which He endured for our sake, teach us more impressively than could anything else what a terrible evil sin is, and what a heavy punishment it deserves. Who can contemplate the Sufferings of Jesus without being moved to contrition and hatred of sin? Who does not feel constrained to love God, when he remembers that the Father gave His Son, and the Son gave His Life for our sakes? This brings us to the consideration of the second reason why the chalice was not removed. Our Blessed Lord drank its bitterness to the very dregs, to kindle the fire of divine love in the hearts of men. There is no one sufficiently degraded not to appreciate, and in a measure to feel grateful for, any sacrifice made for his sake. “Oh, immeasurable love and goodness of God”, says the Church on Holy Saturday, “who to redeem a slave hast delivered up Thine own Son!” It almost looks as if the Father loved man more than He loves His Son, in that He delivered Him up so that we might be saved! And the Incarnate Son of God Himself gave up all for us, and sought out sufferings which He would endure, to prove to us the excess of His Love by the very excess of His Sufferings! Nothing could better reveal the love of God for us than the Sufferings and Death of the Son of God. Even the angels in heaven, on whom God has so lavishly poured proofs of His love, if they wish to contemplate the highest possible proof of God’s goodness, must cast down their glances to this earth of ours, where the Creator suffered for the creature, and He who was offended died on the Cross for those who had offended Him. St. Paul writes thus with reference to Christ’s Passion: “Walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us, and hath delivered Himself for us, an oblation and sacrifice to God, for an odour of sweetness” (Eph. 5:2). What has been said may be briefly summed up thus: The divine justice could have been satisfied with a lesser expiation, and thus the chalice would have been removed from our Lord; but that which would have satisfied the divine justice was not sufficient to satisfy the divine love which knew no measure in its desire to draw us away from sin, and move our hearts to a grateful love in return.

APPLICATION. It was for you that Jesus endured His agony and shed His Precious Blood on the Mount of Olives. The Eternal God suffered for you, ungrateful, sinful creature that you are! Will you not for the future try to love Him more, and serve Him better?

Think what grief of soul your sins caused your Divine Saviour! And yet you pay so little heed to your sins, and have so very little sorrow for them. Reflect on the number and grievousness of your sins, confess your ingratitude and indifference, and ask our dear Lord—for the sake of His bitter agony—to instil into your heart a great hatred of sin. Let us now kneel down and make a good act of contrition!

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