The apex of Holy Week for most Christians is either Friday’s crucifixion or Sunday’s resurrection. For me, the crescendo of the week is Thursday night in the Garden of Gethsemane.
As Passover approached, Jesus moved closer and closer to Jerusalem. He set up shop in Bethany at Mary and Martha’s house, just outside of Jerusalem.
From this outpost, he planned his symbolic entry into the Holy City. Riding a young colt, he mocked the powerful and challenged authoritarian corruption.
After hearing the cheers and praises from the crowds, it appears they considered him along the lines of King David, thinking this Messiah would be like all the rest. The crowds were certain Jesus arrived in Jerusalem to start a revolt and overthrow Roman authority just like his predecessors had attempted.
His actions only solidified this thought in the people’s minds when he went to the temple and drove out the money changers. Just as he drove out the corruption from the temple, he would surely drive out Roman occupation as well.
All Jesus needed was a moment to spark a revolution. Yet, most of the week passed with Jesus remaining in Bethany.
On Thursday, as Passover came closer, he moved into the city. There, he made plans for a final supper with the disciples where he would again attempt to make them understand what was about to happen.
Unfortunately, they did not understand, and one of them took action into his own hands. Judas was on the move, seeking to create the spark that he thought Jesus needed to begin the revolt.
Judas was sure Jesus was like all the other wanna-be-Messiahs that had come before him, but with one exception. The crowds loved him!
Judas was convinced that Jesus would raise an army when forced to do so. Consequently, Judas began to implement his plan of forcing Jesus to give in to his destiny and to lead the revolt against Roman authorities.
While Judas was betraying his rabbi, Jesus and the other disciples were leaving the upper room, headed to the Garden of Gethsemane. When they arrived, Jesus needed some time to think and pray.
In this most personal moment, we read about Jesus, and we hear Christ reveal his heart and mind. He was committed to nonviolent reform, but he knew what it meant. He would most likely be crucified for his efforts.
Thus, he prayed to God, “If there is another way, take this cup from me. But, if not, your will be done” (Matthew 26:39).
Jesus did not want to be crucified. No one would look forward to such a torturous death. However, Jesus held out hope that his disciples and others would embrace his nonviolent methods of reform.
While still praying, a noise began to echo through the garden. At this moment, the crescendo began to build towards the climax. Everything Jesus had said and done throughout the last three years boiled down to this moment.
As the torches grew closer, he knew the soldiers were there for him. Rome could not afford a revolt during Passover when almost a million Jews were in Jerusalem. It could be disastrous and deadly.
Jesus rose to greet Judas, who came in to focus with the soldiers and priests. Judas walked up to his rabbi, kissing him on the hand as though all of this was normal. But it was anything but normal.
Judas’ heart must have been beating fast, knowing what he had done and hoping he had made the right decision. How would Jesus react?
The disciples stood on a razor’s edge, wondering the same. What would Jesus do now, faced with a very tense and vital decision?
Would he finally give up his fairytale ideal of believing that nonviolent resistance to Rome could make a difference? Would he give the order to send the disciples into open revolt, sparking a more significant revolution in the process?
Simon Peter was ready; his hand hovered over his sword. He and Judas were on the same page.
Peter could not take it any longer. He would not let them take his rabbi without a fight. It was finally time. The revolt needed to begin, so he drew his sword and struck one of the soldiers, cutting off his ear.
Jesus had a decision to make. In the blink of an eye, the world hung in the balance. Would Jesus give the order for the disciples to follow Peter’s violent outburst?
Peter waited. Judas waited. The rest of the disciples waited. The soldiers waited. The world waited. How would Jesus react?
Jesus quickly approached the man whom Peter had struck. Was he going to finish him off?
He reached out without a sword and grasped the man’s ear. With what was certainly tears in his eyes, Jesus declared, “Those who live by the sword will die by the sword” (Matthew 26:52).
At that moment, the truth was revealed. Jesus was not a military Messiah. Jesus was not going to use violence to bring about reform. He was not going to war to save his people.
Instead, Jesus was committed to non-violence and the idea that love is the most powerful tool to drive out darkness.
After healing the soldier, the disciples quickly realized their predicament. If they stayed with Jesus, they might be arrested with him. Knowing that whoever ended up in the hands of Rome would surely be crucified, they fled.
In this brief instance, Jesus was left alone. His best friends abandoned him because he chose another way.
Instead of following the previous playbook of other Messiah-like figures, Jesus was going to demonstrate to the world how a humble carpenter from Nazareth could bring down an empire through an act of love and sacrifice.
While Good Friday and Easter morning are the highlights for many Christians around the world, Thursday night of Holy Week will always mesmerize me for the high drama that unfolded in the garden.
There are moments in our own lives when we are forced to make life-altering decisions. Many of us go with the flow, doing what is expected. However, a few set precedent aside for another way – one that demands sacrifice, love and justice.
It’s a way unfamiliar to the rest of the world, but it’s a path that can leave our lives and the world in a much better place.
CEO of Good Faith Media.