And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east; and there he put the man whom he had formed….and the rib which the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man….Now the serpent was more subtle than any other wild creature that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God say, You shall not eat of any tree of the garden?”….The Lord God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this….I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; he shall bruise your head and you shall bruise his heel.” -Genesis 2:8,22; 3:1,14-15
As we enter John 18 we are privileged to be entering the place of prayer, the garden in which Jesus had spent many intimate hours with his disciples, John tells us. And it is good to have your Bible open before you as you read the following paragraphs, because you will be enriched by actually turning to the scriptures we cite this week.
The prophetic words in Genesis 3:15 help us begin to see why, when Jesus invoked the divine name, “I AM,” the soldiers “fell to the ground.” In the words of the Ignatius Study Guide (ISG), “Jesus unleashes the power of the divine name, ‘I AM,’ simply by uttering it” (See Ex. 3:14). “The claim to divinity inherent in this name is substantiated by Jesus’ exhibition of power over the laws of nature,” that is, over sea and storm (John 6:19); over sin and death (John 8:24); over the historical Abrahamic covenant (John 8:58); and over the providential events of the future (John 13:19). (cf ISG note on John 6:20).
St. John chooses to describe the events in the Garden of Gethsemane concisely, in contrast to the other gospels. That very brevity serves to make the parallel with Genesis and the events in the Garden of Eden immediately obvious, especially since he has made us aware that “Jesus often met there with his disciples.” The place of prayerful intimacy with God is quite suddenly invaded by the powers of evil. In Eden, it was relatively simple to bring about the downfall of the human race through a first act of disobedience: “Did God say….?” purrs the Tempter.
But in this other garden, it will not be simple: a cohort, that is, “several hundred Roman troops accompanied by Temple policemen (Acts 5:24-26)” are entering by night, in anticipation of resistance from Jesus and his followers (ISG note on 18:3). And we recognize that the power unleashed by the uttering of the divine name, a power hurling those near Jesus to the ground, marks the beginning of history’s most critical battle between the forces of evil and good, sin and salvation, death and life. The prophetic words of Genesis 3:15 are about to be fulfilled by means of that Divine Power by which the material world and universe were created, and by which “all things hold together” (Colossians 1:17).
Here is a brief study of “power” verses with which all Christians should be familiar: Mark 9:1, 13:26, 14:62; Luke 22:69; Acts 1:8; Romans 1:16; I Corinthians 1:24, 2:2-5, 4:20; Ephesians 1:21; I Peter 3:22. It is important to remember, in respect to our own lives now as Christians, that it is the unleashing of this very power of which these scriptures speak, which we are glimpsing in the Garden of Gethsemane at the beginning of Christ’s Passion.
Benedict XVI, in Jesus of Nazareth (vol.2, ch.6), says this about the Garden of Eden parallel with Gethsemane: “Saint John…gives a theological interpretation to the place when he says, ‘across the Kidron valley, where there was a garden’ (18:1). This same highly evocative word comes back at the end of the Passion narrative: ‘in the place where he was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb where no one had ever been laid’ (19:41). John’s use of the word ‘garden’ is an unmistakable reference to the story of Paradise and the Fall. That story, he tells us, is being resumed here. It is in the ‘garden’ that Jesus is betrayed, but the garden is also the place of the Resurrection. It was in the garden that Jesus fully accepted the Father’s will, made it his own, and thus changed the course of history.”
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Here are a couple of things from the ISG which help us grasp the historical details that are important to the narrative in verses 13-17:
“Annas: the high priest of Israel from A.D. 6 to 15. Because the Romans deposed and replaced him with another priest contrary to the regulations of the Torah, many Jews still revered him as the rightful head of Israel even after he was relieved of his duties (18:19; Acts 4:6). Caiaphas: the son-in-law of Annas and the officiating high priest from A.D. 18-36.”
“Another disciple: probably John the evangelist, who never reveals his name in the Gospel but calls himself the disciple ‘whom Jesus loved’ (13:23; 19:26; 20:2; 21:7). One tradition preserved by Eusebius holds that the Apostle John was born of a Jewish priestly family, which could explain his familiarity with the high priest (18:15), the name of the high priest’s slave (18:10) and the family of the slave (18:26). ”
Finally….remember Zechariah? (see May 24 post) He is the one who, in chapter 13 of his book, prophetically proclaims, Awake, O sword, against my Shepherd, against the man who stands next to me, says the Lord of hosts. Strike the Shepherd that the sheep may be scattered….