Summarizing the Gospel passages on Jesus’ agony, leaving out for now the parts on sleepy Peter, James and John, take note of Jesus’ sorrow and distress, being consumed with sorrow to the point of death, kneeling, falling face down, sweating great drops of blood… Here are those passages. But here’s the deal. Stop and take this in. This is Jesus. You don’t want a god who doesn’t care, a god of your mere abstract imagination somewhere out in outer-space. Then STOP. Imagine this. See the distress unto death. Smell that sickeningly sweet odor of fresh blood. Hear the now raspy, halting voice of prayer:
- In Matthew we read that Jesus “began to be sorrowful and deeply distressed,” and that His “soul is consumed with sorrow to the point of death.” We see Jesus falling face down, praying, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me. Yet not as I will, but as You will.” And then again, “My Father, if this cup cannot pass unless I drink it, may Your will be done.” And then a third time, the same thing.
- In Mark we read that Jesus “began to be deeply troubled and distressed,” and then said, “My soul is consumed with sorrow to the point of death.” He then falls to the ground praying “that, if it were possible, the hour would pass from Him. “Abba, Father, all things are possible for You. Take this cup from Me. Yet not what I will, but what You will.” And then He again prayed, saying the same thing.
- In Luke we read that Jesus knelt down and prayed, “Father, if You are willing, take this cup from Me. Yet not My will, but Yours be done.” We then read that “an angel from heaven appeared to Him and strengthened Him,” but that “in His anguish, He prayed more earnestly, and His sweat became like drops of blood falling to the ground.”
Excursus on that angel: He’s only an angel, doing perfectly what he’s sent to do – Great! – but, of course, this only underlines the fact that he’s only an angel. Jesus is not laying down His life for angels. Good angels remained good. Those who fell don’t ever want to repent. Mary will not be in distress in seeing Jesus tortured to death in front of her because of the sin of some now fallen angels. Real consolation would be the small victory that Peter, James and John would have stayed awake. But not even that. Thanks, good angel, for what you did. You kept Jesus alive that He might die as prophesied. Your presence shows up our absence. I apologize for having been asleep myself.
Back to those passages summarized above. There are some merely apparent problems:
(1) In Luke 12:50 Jesus speaks of being constrained until such time as He can be baptized with the baptism for which He came, the Baptism in His own blood, which will wash away the sins of the world. He came into the world with prompt obedience to the Father so that He might stand in our place, the Innocent for the guilty, taking on the punishment we deserve for sin – death – so that He might have the right in His own justice to have mercy on us, to command the Father: “Father! Forgive them!” Jesus, always the man’s Man, God Himself, is He all of a sudden trembling, shaking with fear about doing what it takes to get the job done? No. That’s the last thing He’s concerned about. So what is it?
(2) Another problem is that there seems to be an inconsistency here with the will of the Father and that of His Son. Jesus is always ready to the will of His Father; obedience is not in question. This is about methodology, circumstances. What is it about Jesus that sets Him off from the Father? This second problem already begins to present us with a solution as to what’s happening in the heart of Jesus.
(3) A third problem also points to a solution. Jesus is not sad, something along the lines that He’s nostalgic for life in this world and He’s sad to have to let it go. Emphatically: No! Firstly, He’s going to rise from the dead . Secondly, He’s going to ascend to heaven to prepare a place for us. He is Life. He is not obsessed, oppressed, paralyzed with a sadness which holds Him back. He is, instead, sorrowful, which is entirely different, involving regret, not for any deficiency of His. No. Sorrow involves a person. But there is something that is going to happen should He say “Yes” to His Fathers’ will, something He does not want to come about, that He tries to avoid as best He can, that He will regret in deep sorrow when it does come about. This is about someone else. Who might that be?
There is a simple solution to all these difficulties, and it is not presented in the text because, why should it be? To those who have will more be given. To those who do not have, even what they think they have will be taken away. Either you know, or you don’t. I can write it out as clearly as crystal can be, but that won’t help those who don’t want to see it. But some know this already. Some are now prepared to hear. Confession: It’s taken me a long time. And I heard this solution presented by someone else in passing, in like a clause of one sentence. But it hit me, hard. Keep in mind, Jesus was distressed and sorrowful unto death about this, sweating blood.
Twenty one years previous to this, when He was but twelve years old, He had prepared His mother for just such a time as this, when she, for three days and three nights would experience the loss of His presence in great distress and unbearable sorrow, surely to the point of death. He had instructed her about His having to be busy with His Father’s will. But that she should see Him tortured to death right in front of her, and then be in the sepulcher for three days and three nights – Where is He? – isn’t there another way, Heavenly Father?
At this point, with Jesus agreeing thrice to do the will of – now – our Heavenly Father, Jesus sees fully what His Mother will be going through, and He Himself suffers an extreme stress induced episode of hematidrosis, the sweating of blood, as Luke says, great drops of blood. A slight form of this happened to me once under extremely brutal physical-work conditions, merely extreme bodily stress when I was a teenager in otherwise perfect shape, actually enjoying the work, totally adrenalined out. No big deal.
Not so with Jesus, who seems to have had an accompanying stress related cardiac episode such that the pericardium was ripped open, filled with blood, which blood separated, and, by the time the soldier thrust the spear into His side, His heart, the following afternoon, blood and water gushed out. This is evident on the burial shroud of Jesus. Pilate was surprised that Jesus had died so quickly, but it was because He died literally more of a broken heart because of being in solidarity with His Mother’s heart than from any torture. The Two Hearts.
As promised, these are brutal notes. So, let’s make this all the more brutal. Hematidrosis causes the skin to become tender and fragile. This would have been unknown to all, the scourging of Jesus by the Roman soldiers, with their barbed whips, was a thousand times more painful and much more easily ripped off more skin with each strike. But that’s for the next sorrowful mystery. And the full reaction of Mary to this, in her heart… that’s for the final sorrowful mystery…
This is enough, methinks, to get someone through ten Hail Marys of the Rosary with reverence before – how to say? – the majestic solidarity of The Two Hearts. This is why people often pray the Rosary on their knees.
On a side note, you’ll remember that at the Wedding of Cana Jesus mentioned His Hour as the Hour in which Mary’s intercession would become especially fruitful. We’ll get to that. In Jesus’ prayer to the Father, at the beginning of this Hour (back to the summaries above), Jesus prays “that, if it were possible, the hour would pass from Him. Abba! Father!” This is clearly about Mary and what is to occasion her intercession for us in that hour, not about any pain He might have to endure. His heart breaks for her.
A final note is in order. We are to make that prayer of Jesus in Gethsemane, He agonizing over the horror that will befall His Mother, we are to make His prayer our own: “Abba! Father!”
- “God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba! Father!” (Galatians 4:6)
When we cry out in the Holy Spirit, “Abba! Father!” we do so with Jesus on behalf of Mary, blurting this out as only children could do upon seeing such a spectacle before our eyes, such concern of Jesus for His Mother, our Mother. I think at the judgment Jesus will take note whether we have ever cried out through, with and in Him. Guaranteed, our angels guardian are urging us, instructing us, leading us to do this before we die. If we have not done this, why not? Our guardian angels will not have failed in their duty. And they will use others – albeit like the sleepy Peter, James and John – to smack us down. If we never cry out, “Abba! Father!” through, with and in Jesus about Mary, Jesus will then say to us in judgment, “Get away from me you evil doer. I never knew you.” But if we were ever with Him in crying out, blurting out, “Abba! Father!” in His prayer about dearest Mary, then I think He will say, “Blessed are you who have stood by me in my trials.” THIS agony is Jesus trial (in the sense of trying-times). With Jesus’ grace, we can return from running away, like John, so as to stand in solidarity with Mary, with Jesus. How can we leave her alone under the Cross?! Perhaps, in seeing Mary’s heart suffer, we can cry out with Saint John, with Jesus, right now: “Abba! Father!” Let’s do that together: