Why did Jesus sweat blood in the garden of Gethsamane? This is a strange phenomenon which is featured only in Luke’s telling of the passion of the Christ. Apparently, there is a medical term for this, and it is called hematohidrosis. It’s extremely rare, and this happens because the anxiety one experiences swell or dilate the blood vessels so much that those around the sweat glands rupture, causing the blood to mix with the sweat, pushing the blood to the surface, and out onto the skin. One could suppose that it was because Luke was the only doctor among the four evangelists that he mentioned this detail. It is not featured in Mark, Matthew or John’s account.
Some would argue that the word ‘hosei’ in the Greek renders as “like” blood, meaning that it was not blood, but something like, or akin to. Whether or not blood was used as a metaphor or whether it was literal, we need to see what significance sweating blood had for Luke’s readers and for all of us.
The most precious and meaningful things that anyone can have from us are the things that we give away freely. It could be our time, our attention, our material possessions or our money. But we resent it when it is taken from us without our wanting to part with it. The more precious things are to us, the more significant it will be when the recipient realizes that there was an effort in our parting with it.
This insight came to me as I was preparing for a talk last week on Jesus’ Agony in the Garden. We all know that in the process of the scourging and beatings, ending with his crucifixion, Jesus had blood taken from him. Mel Gibson’s controversial movie “The Passion of the Christ” brings all the gore and pain out in clear and vivid detail. Jesus had so much taken from him, and it ended with his death. The fact that the soldier pierced Jesus’ side with the lance after he had died, issuing out blood and water, reminds us that these life-giving and life-sustaining elements were extracted from him.
Jesus knew that his giving of his life was going to save the world and to give it life. But before it was going to be taken from him, before the life-giving elements were going to be robbed from him, he had to give it away freely. Could the evangelist Luke be saying that his body’s giving up of the blood by sweating it voluntarily before he was going to be made to do through the scourging is what saves the world.
Looking at it from this angle, it reminds us all that our free will is one of the most valuable things that we have as human beings. The Church has always taught that God wants us to exercise our free will because it is in freedom that when love and life are given, the values are highest. God doesn’t make us do anything, simply because anyone made to love doesn’t really love.
We only need to forward our reading of Luke’s rendering of the passion of Christ a chapter away and see this revealed in the last uttered phrase of Jesus on the Cross to see this once more. He says to the Father “into your hands, I commit my spirit”. The spirit of Jesus is never taken from him. He hands it over to the Father in love, and that is what saves the world.
In many of our struggles to love, we fight this ‘handing over’ so much. Its violence tears us apart on so many levels. It is what disintegrates us.
But when we hand over our wills freely in love, not because of a duty, not because one has no choice, we imitate Christ and do our part in ‘saving’ the world.