by Rev. Doug Gray
Bruno Mars, the singer/song-writer, famously quipped, “You can’t knock on opportunity’s door and not be ready.” But the disciples are definitely not ready for the opportunity Jesus gave them in the Garden of Gethsemane, that Thursday long ago. The full weight of the next fifteen hours is landing on His broad, carpenter’s shoulders, and Jesus is looking for some strength, some guidance, some comfort. So Jesus takes those with whom He is closest to the Mount of Olives.
From the city gates of Jerusalem, the gardens of the Mount of Olives are just a short walk in the moonlight, the hard dirt lit up like a silvery ribbon. The road heads down from Jerusalem’s city walls into the Kidron Valley, under the towering, gleaming presence of the Temple, before coming to the olive groves that still cover the hillside. But Jesus has a particular place in mind, one where He and his friends have spent happier days. It’s a garden with an oil press in it—Gethsemane means “oil press”—for crushing the harvested olives every year, letting the oil flow out and into jars that will be sold in the market. Even though it’s spring and the olive harvest lies months in the future, still the pungent aroma of the press would linger in the dry, cool air of the garden.
Why does Jesus choose this garden? Just because it’s familiar? Because someone has given Him special access? Perhaps Jesus looking for a place where He can have a conversation with God out loud. Because Jesus knows He needs to pray. Like never before, He needs to be with God, and He needs His friends to be there for Him.
And they fail! All the times Jesus and His disciples worked together—bringing healing and multiplying loaves, listening to Jesus teach and casting out demons—all the times Jesus was there for them, and when Jesus needs them, they can’t stay awake.
We would understand if Jesus yelled at them, berated them for being such lousy friends…because we have done that to the people who let us down. We would understand if Jesus would shake them awake and give them some advice about how to stay awake, maybe even work one of those cool miracles that would allow everyone to gain enough strength to make it through. It’s what we would do perhaps to try to get them to do what we want them to do. What must have been so hard for the disciples is that Jesus simply understood. “The spirit is willing, but the body is weak.” At the very closed door when Jesus needed His friends the most, they fail Him…and he understands.
Jesus calls us all the time, and how often are we too tired, or too upset, or too unmotivated? Jesus calls us all the time, and how often are we are just not paying attention? Maybe part of us wishes that Jesus would yell at us or shake us, give us some advice. We could handle those. We deserve those. Instead, Jesus understands us—in all our weaknesses—and Jesus forgives. And it’s not fair! Because Jesus understands and loves, He calls us to look at ourselves, not with hatred but loving understanding. Because Jesus loves and forgives, He calls us to turn aside from the wallow of self-pity and self-loathing, to forgive ourselves. In pride, we might try to hang onto our guilt and shame—they are ours after all, crafted in the failures to love those around us, failures to stand up to oppression and to right injustice—but Jesus simply understands and loves us.
As Jesus came to that garden and smelled the olives crushed in the press, He needed just a moment to be with God, to give God one more chance to change His mind. Jesus already knew the door would be closed, and so He made it crystal clear: if He had to walk the path of cruelty and degradation, if He had to drink this cup of suffering and sacrifice, He would do it out of love for His heavenly Daddy, and His clueless, sleeping disciples who wanted to do better. The door shut on all the other options—He was ready for what must come. He faced the closed doors, alone with God.
And therein lies our hope as we face all our doors—open and closed! Because Jesus endured, we will never be alone. Because Jesus endured, we will always have God’s strength to walk in God’s way. Because Jesus was ready, in His grace and strength, we can be ready in His grace and strength. Because Jesus understands, even if we don’t, and Jesus forgives, we can always knock on the doors of opportunity. And because of Jesus, we can be ready.