Failure is a lonely place. Success is a communal celebration but to fail, particularly in a perceived life task, is to find oneself alone, apart in a bleak desert of the spirit. I remember as a child, witnessing my father on his knees beside his bed reciting the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary – “the first mystery, the Agony in the Garden”. His voice was muffled, filled with desperation. My instinct was to run to him, to comfort him, to reassure him, as he had often reassured me. But the weight of his anguish stopped me on the threshold. I turned and fled, seeking reassurance instead in the kitchen where my mother was calmly if taciturnly peeling potatoes.
The scariest words in the Gospel stories surely must be, “Not my will but Thine, be done”. Jesus spent three years promoting His view of Yahweh - His loving, very approachable Father, His doting Abba – while presenting Himself as this doting God’s beloved Son. Yet, in the Garden of Gethsemane, it looks like this relationship is stretched almost beyond breaking point. Jesus is not just facing a degrading horrific death but the abysmal failure that such a death implied. How could He and by extension we, maintain confidence in a loving concerned God if the anguished cry of the His Beloved Son is met with a deafening silence? – or so it seems.
In the Gospel accounts, Jesus agonises in great fear and doubt about His situation. But some deep seismic shift in His attitude did occur in the Garden. He must have come to some decision about His Father for Him to emerge from His crisis and deal with His subsequent ordeal with such strength and serenity. In the long, graphic account of His passion and death He is calm, dignified, imbued with a formidable inner strength, producing the awe-struck reaction of Pontius Pilate, the Centurion and even the “Good Thief” to His presence. Did He have some prescient Divine knowledge of the outcome of His death which shielded Him from the horror of it all? To believe this is to believe in a cop out. It is in His passion and death that Jesus is most fundamentally, authentically human.
The Father’s seeming abandonment of His Son in Gethsemane was for me for many years a real stumbling block. If God could expect His own beloved Son to accept His “will” – an apparently arbitrary death - would this God expect the same of me?
Now I believe that Jesus decided to absolutely trust His Father’s love for Him, to believe in it so profoundly, that He could accept that, even in this hopeless situation, His Father’s wisdom and love prevailed. His faith was of course vindicated. Could it be that in the dreadful loneliness of my own lifetime failures, my God is asking of me, as He did of His own beloved Child, that I trust enough in His love for me, to know that all is not lost?
Elizabeth McKenzie is editor of the Tinteán magazine of the Australian Irish Heritage Network.
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