by Father Mike Stubbs
Graduating seniors face many important decisions. Should they find a full-time job? Should they join the military? Should they continue on with more education? If so, what school should they choose? Understandably, many seniors agonize over these decisions.
The word “agonize” derives from the Greek word meaning “struggle.” It is essentially the same word as “agony.” That is how Sunday’s Gospel reading, the passion narrative, describes Jesus’ situation the evening before he died:
“He was in such agony and he prayed so fervently that his sweat became like drops of blood falling on the ground” (Lk 22:14 – 23:56).
Jesus is struggling with his desire to follow God’s will, which will result in his death, and his natural desire to live: “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; still, not my will but yours be done.”
Because of this struggle, Jesus sweats profusely, so much so that “his sweat became like drops of blood falling on the ground.” Notice that the text does not say that Jesus actually sweated blood.
The comparison to blood foreshadows the sufferings of Jesus the next day, when he will bleed profusely as a result of the scourging and crucifixion.
The copious amounts of sweat might also remind us of an athlete engaged in a competition, who perspires heavily in exerting that tremendous effort to win. But in this case, Jesus is undergoing mental anguish, not physical suffering as an athlete would. That will come the next day.
However, Jesus is not alone in his struggle. He receives help from God: “And to strengthen him an angel from heaven appeared to him.”
In contrast, his disciples have abandoned him. While Jesus was deep in prayer, they have fallen asleep: “When he rose from prayer and returned to his disciples, he found them sleeping from grief.” He will have to fight this battle alone.
As Jesus wrestles with his decision to fulfill God’s will, he is resisting his last — and perhaps greatest — temptation. Notice also, that this struggle takes place in the context of prayer. Jesus’ prayer to God strengthens his resolve to do God’s will. His prayer enables him to face the temptations that would dissuade him from obeying God.
Jesus’ faithfulness to God should inspire us to similarly fight the temptations that would take us away from God. He is the true superhero, whose example can encourage us in the midst of all our struggles.