Today’s text has us reading 60 verses from Mark 14. This chapter is full of drama, beginning with Jesus eating his last meal with his disciples, his prayer for deliverance in Gethsemane, being betrayed by Judas, denied by Peter, the disciples flee, Jesus is arrested in the darkness of the night, and is interrogated and condemned by the high priest and his council (Sanhedrin). This all happens before daybreak on Friday morning.
While the disciples enjoy a yummy Passover meal, where they give thanks and remember God’s deliverance of their people 1500 years earlier, today’s reading really focuses is on betrayal and let down.
First, a little 101. Gethsemane is an Aramaic word for “oil press” or “olive press”. “Gethsemane” was probably an olive grove located on the Mount of Olives. Olive trees flourish in stony soil. The ground can be hard and rocky but somehow the trees adjust and thrive. Could it be that Jesus is a little like these olive trees? He has preached and taught for three years, yet there is still much to overcome. Does he find comfort in the surrounding trees that are grown and now bear fruit, despite the rocky and hard soil?
It is speculated that the owner of the grove built a press in the middle of it to squeeze the olives in order to harvest the oil. In those days, an olive press was made of a big, flat, elevated stone with had a heavy wheel-shaped stone that was used to roll over the olives. The oil would then runs down a channel and was collected in a pan or jar. Does Jesus see the oil press and study the three foot thick stone that is used to crush the olives? Does he realize that this is his destiny, to be crushed by stones of fear, prejudice and hatred? And somehow, the offering (like that of the oil) will be used to bring light to the world?
I don’t know about you, but I always thought of it as a peaceful garden, a quiet place, a place of rest. Guess I was wrong. This place Gethsemane…is a place of pressure, a place of stress, a place of squeezing.
Jesus isn’t the only one who is squeezed here in this place. The disciples are tested, 3 times, and fail each time. And the way Jesus addresses Peter? He doesn’t call him Peter, but rather Simon. While Jesus doesn’t embarrass Peter, he shows his disappointment by his choice of name, calling him Simon rather than Peter (which means Rock in Greek). There is no more mention of the Rock. Where is the one who swore would he would never leave of forsake Jesus?
This is a time that Jesus needs his friends the most. He wants to be able to go pray and know they are there with him. Friends are a great source of comfort and strength when you go through the deepest, longest, darkest night of your life. And yet, here and now, when Jesus needs them the most, they have fallen asleep at the wheel.
Is this just another case of failed discipleship in the Gospel of Mark? Mark is full of such cases. What do we see and glean from this text?
After the disciples run away after Jesus is arrest, Peter denies knowing Jesus three times in the courtyard, and none of them show up on Friday to say goodbye (the disciples aren’t mentioned again in till after the resurrection), Jesus doesn’t give up on them. He doesn’t even give up on them (later in chapter 16) when the 11 don’t believe the good news from the women. Yes, he rebukes them for their lack of faith and their stubborn refusal to believe, but he still sends them to do His work in the world.
When I picture myself in this story, I am definitely one of the disciples who is fleeing the scene, hoping to not be caught or recognized. Being the law-abider, rule follower that I am I wouldn’t even be bold enough to get that close to the Sanhedrin to even deny him. As far away as my feet would carry me…that is where I would be.
While there is a bit of shame in admitting this, much like Peter felt shame and guilt in denying Jesus, this is just the beginning of the story. There is more to come. Much more than the disciples could or would imagine, much more grace and forgiveness than any of us deserve.