The image of Jesus sweating blood in the Garden of Gethsemane is a sobering one. Never has anyone been known to sweat blood—no matter the degree of anguish, fear, or sorrow endured. Over the centuries, men and women have faced myriad torments from physical assaults, to the destruction of cherished possessions, to total annihilation, and yet the phenomenon in the Garden was singular. It had to be related to Christ’s divinity, which took a particular toll on his mortal flesh.
Knowing that Jesus was without sin, we may find it difficult to understand the mental battle: Wasn’t chafing before the mission some sort of moral failing? Is there even a sliver of Christ that preferred his own comfort to the plan of God, or considered side-stepping the Passion? Surely, even the little we know of the price he paid is monstrous—and his mental anguish makes sense in that regard—but knowing the true parameters of that struggle will help us as we grapple with our own frailty.
Jesus is God, and although he took the form of a slave (cf. Phil 2:7), he did not forsake the divine attributes that he shared with the other persons of the Trinity. That is why his omniscience had such an impact at that moment. In many meditations, we are reminded that Jesus saw each of us while he was in the Garden and thus, if we ponder that intimate thought, we realise that he saw countless millions of people at that time. His love for each was a crushing burden—especially when much of that love went unrequited. He saw his gifts spurned and his great truth rejected, but I don't think that constituted any part of his hesitation. God is love, and he cannot be anything but love. He always knew the magnitude of our shabby response to his salvific act, and so the drops of blood had to have another impetus.
For a better understanding, perhaps we should consider the parameters of virtue, and how one chooses the good. Everyone chooses the good as he understands it; unfortunately our perceptions are often quite confused about the actual merit in our choices. We pursue money and accolades, treasure and comfort out of proportion to their true value. We neglect persons for things, and others for the sake of ourselves—when we’re not pursuing outright wickedness which we find entertaining. It’s all about having the proper priorities, recognising a hierarchy of values, and having the freedom to sacrifice a lower good for a higher good.
In that regard, it makes sense that Jesus cherished the flesh he had received from Mary, in whose womb his humanity was fearfully, wonderfully made (cf. Ps 139:14). He valued health and wholeness, he held his life among his beloved brothers and sisters quite dear. He hated death, which had wrapped its wicked tentacles around humanity since our expulsion from another Garden, corroding the richness intended for mankind. His resolve after that tortuous time of prayer strengthened him to trade something that was very good for something he cherished even more: he sacrificed his sacred flesh for our eternal salvation.
As we undertake another Lent, perhaps the struggle in the Garden can provide a helpful template for each of us. As we weigh our actions and consider the goods therein, we can then proportion those ends to other things of value. Whenever we encounter a clash between a lesser good and a higher good, we have our ready meat for prayer, sacrifice—and confession!
We cannot know all, but knowing ourselves better—what we value, and how our priorities are arranged—can be a tremendous goal. Knowing why Christ struggled in Gethsemane and what he chose on our behalf should help us with our own battles, for he wasn’t grappling with “act” or “run away,” but a choice between “good” and “better.” And we can always do better!