Monday, April 11, 2011

Our greatest gift is given away, not taken from us.

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.


  1. Thank you for your talk at IHM last Friday. In our faith, we have heard many times about redemptive suffering and the need for the ability to see God in our sufferings. Often too are we asked to identify our sufferings with Christ on the Cross.

    Seldom, if any, are we asked to ponder upon the Agony in the Garden. Of how, in the garden our Lord, Jesus Christ, prepares for his sufferings that are to come, when he begins to deplete himself and to completely surrender to his father’s will. It is the "downwards" Christ who reaches deep into the sorrows and sufferings humanity to save us.

    Your talk was poignant to me as one who is embarking on a long road with a mother who is gravely ill. Have I spent sufficient time in the Garden of Agony with Jesus before I step out and partake in the Passion of Christ? Because if I have, I know the angels would come and wait on me and give me the strength and courage.

  2. To get us into the Garden metaphor, you asked why the agony was in the garden and not anywhere else and concluded that, that affairs of the heart are ideally pursued in the garden-a meeting place, tryst for lovers....a place to linger & tarry awhile ? However, from the later development of the talk & again here in your blog, I feel that the passion of Christ started not on Good Friday but here in the Garden , where the garden of one’s heart can also be mottled with shady, gray and even dark areas of nettles & briars, where fear lurks in the shadows. ... and to plunge unflinchingly into it calls for great courage and a firm decision to trust in the power of love to bring Him up again. It gives insight to - ..... “There is no hope beyond the grave that doesn’t plunge its roots into the depths of the abyss....Only those who have the courage to ‘’descend into hell’’ can talk about ‘’heaven ‘’ and in that way try to snatch a whole life from the captivity of death...’’ ( Dremermann)

    When I reflect on what you’ve said & written, I sensed that somehow even when visited by grief & suffering, God still wants to depend on our decisions.......for by exercising our free will to choose - we make our sacrifices into ‘pure gifts ‘ . The purity of our gift ( unadulterated - ‘‘not because of a duty, not because one has no choice ......’’ like you said) somehow has great value in the eyes of God- perhaps this is the purity of heart, the holiness that is so highly esteemed and sought after by us all ?
    God bless