I hope that you don’t mind my posting so many excerpts. It seems to me that this sort of thing, given my limitations, might be the best service that I can render. The BBC has recorded a series of Lent talks based on different sites along the Via Dolorosa. The most recent talk, inspired by the Garden of Gethsemane, was delivered by Fr Jamal Khader, a priest of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem and chair of Religious Studies at the Bethlehem University. Here, then, is an excerpt:
So is there any possibility for light or for joy? When one looks at the Gospel, one learns that Jesus’ message was one of love and reconciliation. And His actions that night in the garden and during his passion are indicative of that. Indeed it is possible that the scenes of suffering and betrayal in this moment can have something positive to teach us.
Because, what is striking about Gethsemane is the humanness of the event. Jesus is seen to agonise and wrestle with the fate that God seems to have in store for him. the betrayal by Judas is a painful moment and marks a point of abject loneliness for Jesus who’s been deserted by everyone. Judas seems to be a man who has turned 180 degrees. He has just shared a meal with Jesus, he has followed him all the way to Jerusalem. Yet at the last moment, when Jesus needed him most – he comes with a kiss, the sign of friendship, and instead gives a sign to the soldiers for them to arrest Jesus. Why Judas did this has been the subject of debate for centuries. Was it for money? Was it to push Jesus towards confrontation with the authorities to force him to declare himself the Messiah? Either way, the figure of Judas throughout history has symbolised betrayal, someone who is possessed and guided by the devil. No one would name his son after him, it is even illegal in some countries!
This whole experience is a very human one. Sometimes we feel helpless, desperate; nothing can change our fate. The example of Jesus tells us a different story, the story of the love of God to men and women in our time. And it’s a story that still speaks to us today even in the complexities and tensions of modern Jerusalem.
In our situation in the Holy Land, people are always asking, when will there be peace? Indeed, as we look to the left of the Mount of Olives, from the site of this Church, we see the separation barrier; it separates people, not only Israelis and Palestinians, but Palestinians from their families, students from their schools, Christians from the Holy Places, and Muslims from the Dome of the Rock, their place of worship.
If we then look towards the Old city. We can clearly see from here the division; the Christian quarter, the Muslim Quarter, the Jewish Quarter. And if you walk the streets of the Old City, you should make sure not to end up in another quarter other than your own. You may have an unpleasant surprise, because one does not feel welcome in another person’s neighbourhood. So people ask, and they have a right to ask, when will Jerusalem be a city of peace and not conflict?
When we read the events of the last week in the life of Jesus and read of the tensions between the Jews and Romans, between Jesus, his followers and the Jewish authorities, between those who weep the unjust condemnation of Jesus and those who celebrate his death, we only need to change the names and we feel the same tensions today. We can smell the violence, injustice, and death. Jerusalem is called the “city of Peace” or “City of God” what an irony! This city can not be the city of God when the believers in the same God continue to hate each other, kill each other and dominate each other.
So many have lost hope, some are desperate and desperation can lead to desperate measures. The story of Jesus however, shows us that nothing is as desperate as it may seem. And hope is so powerful, for all people. Hope keeps us alive, hope gives us courage to work for peace and reconciliation, even if everything else seems to tell us that it is impossible.
Because what comes shining out from the darkness of that night, is the light of hope. Why did Jesus not rage at Judas and send him away? Because he had hope. Jesus’ non resistance to the soldiers when they came to capture him is remarkable. One might ask, why did go to Gethsemane in the first place? Why didn’t he leave when he had the chance to do so? What he did have was hope. And his hope came from his trust in God. Jesus believed he was doing God’s will and he believed God would never fail him. This is not just a platitude to be said and forgotten, indeed it is far from an easy option.
As we all know, sometimes our paths are not easy and may not even be the paths we want to take. But the suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus can be a message of hope for all who suffer; a message of hope to mankind, to all those who have given up hope. We all bear our own cross but it is how we bear it that makes the difference. Christians believe that walking the way of the cross with Jesus means to fight in the war against evil and injustice, and it means to overcome them. This victory may come through suffering but there is hope that the sun of justice will rise again on Sunday, and this sun will never go down.