The agony of ‘our Jesus’
March 20th, 2017
By Sister Jean Evans, RSM
Some years ago, I lived with a sister who had the habit of referring to her siblings as “our Tim” or “our Rose.” After a time, I too was included in the family circle and when referenced for others, became “our Jean.” This simple act of possession, of family inclusion prompts me to share something about “our Jesus,” in particular, his agony in the garden. We can follow the Gospel narratives of his agony in Matt. 26:36-46; Mark 14:32-42; and Luke 22:40-46.
What was it that our Jesus suffered in his agony? What really comprised the full gamut of his sufferings?
I rely here on the insights of Jesuit Father François Varillon and focus on certain aspects: Jesus’ experience of separation, of ambivalence, of disgust, shame and fear.
Varillon maintains that our Jesus suffered extreme terror at the prospect of his death. The agony is the culminating point of his passion – it is a living death. Why so? It is the moment when Jesus experiences the wrenching separation from the Father. “It is an agony of the heart,” says Varillon, “in which the Father disappears from the consciousness of Jesus.” In Varillon’s view, a woman who has borne a child experiences the agony of separation from her child. “We were one. Now we are two.” And so it was for our Jesus who had lived the reality, “The Father and I are one” (John 10:30).
Like us in all things except sin, Jesus suffered the ambivalence that characterizes our human nature: He wanted solitude and companionship at the same time.
Jesus tells Peter, James and John to stay put while he goes a little distance to pray. He begins to feel “sadness and anguish” (Matt. 26:37ff). Then he goes back to them and says, “My soul is sorrowful to the point of death. Wait here and stay awake with me” (26:38). Once again, he moves away from the disciples and prays to the Father for deliverance from this death sentence. Struggling, agonizing, our Jesus gives himself over to God. When he rises from prayer, he finds his three friends fast asleep.
Our Jesus looks for consolation and encouragement from the disciples, but instead encounters the fickleness and selfishness of his friends. “So you had not the strength to stay awake for one hour?” Again, he leaves the three men and repeats his prayer of surrender to God. All during this time, Jesus’ desire for companionship and his need for solitude vie with each other. Alone in anguish and fear, he is a victim.
Finally, we see our Jesus experience disgust and shame. He is frightened as the weight of what lies ahead of him is too much. He is nauseous. Luke tells us “an angel appeared to him to give him strength… He prayed more earnestly and his sweat fell to the ground like drops of blood” (22:43-44).
The trials of our Savior are lived today in his body, the church: in the suffering of families betrayed, separated and deported; in our ambivalence about human rights, in the terror of the trafficked, in the nausea and shame of the abused and exploited members of the body of Christ.
This is our Jesus in agony. This is our Jesus to whom we can offer consolation, encouragement, protection, assurance and friendship. Will we continue to sleep in his/their hour of trial?
Mercy Sister Jean Evans is vocation minister for the Sisters of Mercy West Midwest.
From March 23, 2017 issue of Catholic San Francisco.