A Need for Gethsemane

It has been hard to focus on Lent during this abrasive and invasive electoral Lenten season.

Another act of terror, eliciting unhelpful responses from the GOP candidates: Ted Cruz calls for pogroms against American Muslims, a modern version of what my Russian-Jewish grandfather fled at the beginning of the last century. Donald Drumpf rants that discrimination against an entire religious group is the answer without regard to its largely peaceful members, some of whom are fleeing exactly the same extremist faction committing the acts of terrorism in Paris, Istanbul, and Brussels.

Raised nominally Roman Catholic I believed in substitutionary atonement doctrine, found it inspirational that someone 2,000 years ago would die for me without ever knowing me. As I grew older, better educated in both parochial and secular studies, doubt crept in on kitten-feet. After all, I had only my own fathers to whom I compared God and while bio-dad was largely absent he was never unkind, and my adoptive step-father was good, kind, and loving. What sort of a father would send His son to die a hideous death? Even for the whole of mankind? Maybe the sort who would allow the Holocaust to happen. It was hard to wrap my brain around, harder still when I became a parent. Send my child to die a horrible death? Even for all the people in the world? Are you out of your mind?

Several years ago I read Martin Borg’s excellent book The Last Week. It introduced me to a whole new Jesus, one who was a lot less meek and mild, not quite the warrior Messiah the Jews had hoped for, but rather an intelligent, thoughtful man who knew exactly what he was doing and tolerated zero bullshit. Here was someone I could understand and admire, even as I struggled with the notion that wars, tragedy, and evil might be less God’s will, more mankind’s own stupidity, stubbornness, and hubris. It was tough stuff, but did not preclude my belief in all things working toward good under God.

Fortunately, even in my state of world-weariness this Lent has brought some wonderful, thoughtful blogposts on the humanity of Christ or rather, atonement doctrine of lamb-to-the-slaughter Vs wise, thinking human completely knowledgeable of what would happen to him, but willing, and God’s astounding grace within it all. This one in particular finally bubbled up to me from a couple years ago and I found it especially compelling.

Regardless which version of Jesus was real sometimes I find myself wondering, especially during times like this election cycle with common sense in short supply and shouting all around,  if he ever just got weary with all of it? Were there moments when he looked around at his screwed up world and doubted the mission, felt helpless at the enormity of it, and considered just packing up and going home to Nazareth? Finding some nice girl and having a few babies, plying his father Joseph’s trade to make a living? Creating for himself and his family a decent, calm, honorable life away from the hurly-burly of the city, the stress and strain of Rome and its agents, of Jerusalem with its puppet kings and pharisees. Did he ever just hope to live out his life with a modicum of comfort and without a quixotic quest of bringing God’s kingdom to earth in the form of justice, forgiveness, compassion, acceptance, and love?

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Photography: one of my Gethsemanes

At my old parish we kept the Watch, took it in turns on Maundy Thursdays to sit with Jesus an hour in the garden of Gethsemane. Matthew or Mark, take your pick, both indicate he experienced weariness, fear, and doubt. Yet the next day he faced it all, finding even the grace to forgive those who betrayed him, those who abandoned him for fear of their own lives, and those who killed him. Whatever your perception of the Son of God one has to admire his fortitude. It’s a form of bravery which makes me a little ashamed of myself, here in a country in which I am guaranteed personal autonomy and religious freedom, the days I don’t even read or watch the news because I can’t stand to hear one more bloviating politician lambasting another while making empty promises. My only responsibility for my own freedom is that I pay attention and vote; how can I find myself too weary? But some days, I do. So I sit an hour (or a day) in my personal Gethsemane.

Doubt is part of faith; we don’t know for sure what comes next. Personal weariness aside, I find myself thinking this is exactly why thinking Christians must commit to the up-hill battle that is continuing Jesus’ work. This is precisely why we can’t be silent in the face of xenophobia, hypocrisy, corruption, greed, hunger, religious persecution, and social injustice. We can’t sit dreaming of all the justice to come in the next life; we must instead work toward creating it now. But like Jesus, sometimes we will need to sit in the garden, whatever our personal garden is, and rest an hour before resuming the battle.

The essential thing is in continually resuming the battle, until we too can say, “it is finished”.

2 thoughts on “A Need for Gethsemane

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