AND JESUS SMILED
taken from Matthew 26:36-46
It was dark that night. Scary dark. Evil lived in the blackness. Demons breathed in the shadows. A low-grade stench of sulpher violated the air—even in the garden.
The crunch of gravel stopped when Jesus turned to his three friends and said, “Wait here.” Now, only his sandals veered off the path. He alone dove deeper into the darkness.
And satan smiled.
Dampness breached the cloth of Jesus’s coat, and a shiver ran from shoulder to shoulder. Or was that from the human side of him, the fearful side? Whatever, he could no longer put this off. Near the scarred trunk of an ancient olive tree, he sank to the dirt.
“Father.” His ragged voice assaulted the thick silence. Clearing his throat likely wouldn’t help, but he did it anyway. “Please . . . have mercy. If it’s possible. Oh, please, my God, may it be possible. Let this cup pass from Me.”
Cup. Huh. Perhaps he ought to call it what it was. Death. Torment.
He closed his eyes, physically blocking out the images of all that wrath implied. Better to not dwell on the pain. It was more than a man could bear…but could he?
He sucked in a breath. Sharp cold settled deep into his lungs and forced out words that were right. Words that meant life. Words that would end his own.
“Nevertheless, Father, not as I wish it.” He stood and lifted his face to the black sky. Leaves blocked out a direct connection…visually, at any rate.
“As you will,” he whispered.
There. He’d said it. He’d given his consent. So why did his feet drag, his shoulders sag as he retraced his steps to his friends?
No matter. His spirit would be buoyed along with their prayers. Their cries to God, added to his, would give him strength.
“What!” He froze, gaping, and nearly bent double. The lot of them, all three, slept on the ground. Peter even snored.
Jesus’s sandals ate up the ground. He bent and nudged Peter in the ribs. Hard. “Could you not watch with me one hour? Watch and pray! Lest you enter into temptation.”
Peter blinked. Half a nod bobbed his head.
Then he rolled over.
A sigh stole Jesus’s breath. “The spirit indeed is willing, my friend, but the flesh…” He shook his head. “The flesh is weak.”
This time each step back to the tree cost him strength that would be better saved for the morrow. As he knelt, his knees hit an upcropped knot of root. Pain shot up his thighs. Was it worth it? Was any of this worth it?
He bowed his head. Sweat beaded his brow, condensed, and dripped down the bridge of his nose. He swiped it away with the back of his hand, then did a double-take. Red stained his skin.
“Oh My Father,” he cried out. “If this cup cannot pass away from Me unless I drink it…God, must I drink it?”
And then it hit him. Was that not exactly what he’d asked of his disciples only an hour ago? To drink of his blood, the blood of a new covenant. Unless he pressed on, pressed through this God forsaken night, there would be no new covenant.
He grit his teeth so hard, the tendons in his jaw crackled…but that didn’t stop him from saying, “Your will be done.”
Trudging back to his friends, he doubted they’d be awake. Still, one could hope.
Heavy breathing hit his ears before he even cleared the bend in the path. Disappointment stopped him flat. Where was his support? Could the three men he’d entrusted with his time and message not have spared one hour of prayer on his behalf? Didn’t they care what he was going through?
Abandonment tasted brassy. Metallic. A precursor of what was to come.
He turned, his feet knowing the routine. His heart…not so much. Though all his life had projected him to this moment, now that it was here, the intensity was gut wrenching.
For the third time, he knelt. The lonely cry of a nightingale mingled with his voice. “Father, my soul is exceedingly sorrowful…even to death.”
The words rattled in his skull like sharp gravel in a clay jar, scoring his senses. So much depended on him—almost too much. Not only his forehead sweated. Now his tunic clung to his chest, to his back. A back that would be torn open in hours. A chest that would cease its movement beyond that. And then…
All the fury of hell would be unleashed on him, for never ending days that would seem an eternity.
But would be an eternity for those he loved if he didn’t go through with this. Peter. John. (look up at audience and make eye contact with several) You. And you.
The faces of each of his loved ones rose up. Women he cherished. Men he knew. Children…Oh God, the children. None would survive. None would escape. A shudder shook his bones. His heart shattered to pieces.
Jesus lifted his arms to the heavens. “Your will be done!”
The night’s intensity deepened. A cold wind rattled through the trees like so many skeletons rolling over in the grave. But peace, such as he’d not known since coming to earth, filled the thin spaces, the hard-to-reach places, in his soul.
“Your will be done,” he repeated. And Jesus smiled.
He stalked back to the clearing, to his friends, to the ominous shadows wielding swords and bludgeons, then widened his stance and shouted. “Rise! Let us be going. See, my betrayer is at hand.”