Thursday, 5 April 2012

Good Friday Meditation 1/4: Jesus Reigns at Gethsemane

In Matthew's, Mark's and Luke's gospels, we see the vulnerability of Jesus up close and personal in the Passion narratives. They all record more clearly his anguish and pain - e.g. Mt.26:38-39, Mk.14:33, Lk.22:44 - a beautiful demonstration of Heb.5:7.

But John is different, Jesus never stops reigning and there is no hint of weakness or anguish. Jesus never leaves the driving seat, exercising total control over everything.

(N.B. This doesn't mean that the gospels are contradictory, they just highlight different faces of the beautiful diamond that is Christ. :-)

In John's account of Gethsemane (18:1-11), Jesus shows he is in total control by:
  1. Stepping forward to greet the band of soldiers who he knew were coming to arrest him.
  2. Ordering the soldiers to let his disciples go.
  3. Ordering his own disciples not to fight.
Another unexpected detail is that the soldiers all fall to the ground when Jesus reveals to them that he is the one they are looking for. A curious behaviour given that they are more numerous than him, have more weapons than him and have the authority of the establishment behind them. Was there a mini earthquake? Are they all wearing dodgy high heels? Are they all suffering from the human equivalent of Myotonia?

Of course, it's none of the above, so what is it?

These Jewish temple guards, would be scared rigid at the thought of arresting Jesus. They knew he was a great prophet of God - he had taught with authority, healed the sick, raised the dead, multiplied food and taken on the whole religious establishment single-handedly revealing them to be a bunch of petulant toddlers.

More than that, many thought Jesus was Elijah back from the dead (Lk.9:19), and if they knew their stories from Sunday School, that would make them extra especially nervous.

Back in 2 Kings 1, King Ahaziah takes the hump at Elijah because Elijah rebukes him for consulting a false god regarding the nature of his ill health instead of YHWH the God of Israel. Ahaziah, annoyed at the way this upstart prophet questions his authority, sends out a military guard to bring Elijah in for being so presumptuous, but Elijah calls down fire on the guard and they are killed. So a second guard is sent, they too are barbecued alive. Only when the third guard arrives and the captain of that guard begs Elijah for mercy does Elijah relent and go with him and the guard to the palace where the apostate ruler lives.

So it's no surprise that back here in Gethsemane, the temple soldiers are jumpy, they have every reason to be. Jesus (the greater Elijah) is the one in charge here, and they can arrest him and take him to their apostate rulers only because he allows them to and because he is about a greater mission than his own worldly comfort.

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