Good Friday Reflections – 3 Gethsemane and the Trials

Mark 14.26-34

Talk by Mother Anne-Marie

Gethsemane and the trials

In our mind’s eye Gethsemane is a garden, but neither Mark nor Matthew who give us the name Gethsemane mention a garden. John says Jesus went to a garden but does not say it is Gethsemane. In the tradition we have combined the two and it has become the Garden of Gethsemane.

Many think the word Gethsemane is from the Aramaic ‘gat-smane’ which means olive press so it may well have been the place where the olives from the Mount of Olives were taken for pressing. The name may also be used significantly to indicate the place where Jesus was pressed – came under the greatest personal pressure. It is now night time and Jesus enters into this great emotional agony. His prayer is almost one of pleading that the cup be taken from him. Can’t his Father stop this, whatever this is going to be? Jesus knows the forces against him are mounting. But in prayer he comes to the conclusion that as ever it is his Father’s will that is important. He asks his closest friends to stay awake with him – his only request and they fail. Then in this place this apart from the glimpse between Jesus and Peter in the courtyard, which only occurs in Luke’s gospel, this is the last time the disciples see him before his death.

He then goes on to what we call the trials – before the High Priests and the Sanhedrin, before Pontius Pilate and in Luke’s gospel also before Herod. We have a problem about the sources of information for the trials if none of the close disciples were there. Who are the witnesses of what happened? There have been two suggestions. There are two people in the outer circle of disciples or perhaps a better word is sympathizers, who were members of the Sanhedrin – Nicodemus who came to Jesus at night, and Joseph of Arimathea who provided the tomb for Jesus’ burial. Both could have been witnesses to the Sanhedrin trial, but the trial before Pilate and that in Luke before Herod, we do not know. It begs a question about who was there who might have become a disciple later and then provided the traditions of what happened in the trials. There may be several significant players in the night’s events, both in the Jewish and Roman trials, who later came to faith in Jesus. They have contributed to the story but are unnamed and unknown to us.  There may well have been witnesses to what happened to Jesus that night, who became disciples, provided the information that later was written down by the gospel writers to give us the great passion narratives, which so enrich our faith. Sometimes we may feel that we are an insignificant disciple, but who knows what our quiet contribution is doing in someone’s life?

But back to the trials. Jesus wasn’t the only person on trial that night. I am not talking of the thieves crucified with him or of Barrabas released instead of him. I am talking of Peter. He did not have a formal court trial, but he did face a time of trial through that long, dark night. Confident Peter – what did he say in the passage we heard from Mark’s gospel? “Even though all become deserters, I will not”. And yet later that night, as Jesus has predicted, Peter will deny knowing his Lord three times. Peter’s trial in the courtyard of the High Priest is interwoven in the text into the trial of Jesus. Here are two people under pressure, acting in very different ways. Jesus stays incredibly calm as he is questioned about who he is; whereas Peter’s denial becomes greater the more he is questioned.

In Luke’s gospel, at the point when Jesus goes off to pray at Gethsamene and leaves the disciples to keep watch and stay awake, he says to them “pray that you may not come into the time of trial”. If only they had stayed awake and prayed that prayer. Peter as he comes into his time of trial denies his Lord and upon that realization weeps bitterly. What Paula Gooder suggests is that on the night in his time of trial, Peter did not only deny his Lord, he denied who he himself really was. Peter had followed Jesus with a passion, he had risked his life walking on the water, but here in the courtyard fear drove him not only to deny his Lord but to deny the Peter he really was. Brought to his time of trial he failed. Thank goodness that Peter, the real Peter, was restored, not just forgiven. We got the old Peter back – the same, but a good deal wiser – to lead the early church with passion and conviction. Never again, I expect, would he forget to pray the prayer that Jesus had taught him –“do not bring us to the time of trial”.