Walk the Land: The Final Footsteps of Jesus
- Tuesday, February 22, 2005
When sun shines on the limestone walls of the Old City of Jerusalem, the rocks emit a rosy golden hue as if the blood of life pulsated through stone capillaries. From a strictly geological point-of-view, it is because Jerusalem limestone contains flecks of mica and quartz. No matter: We have come to follow Jesus' footsteps to the cross and it is precisely the blood of Life we will follow in and around the Old City.
Outside the walls, near the base of the Mount of Olives, a grove of arthritic olive trees huddle together, their trunks gnarled and dimpled with grottos, their gray-green leaves shimmering in the light. This is one of two spots commemorating the Garden of Gethsemane and Jesus' crushing struggle.
Dr. Paul Wright, president of Jerusalem University College on Mount Zion, said that although two churches have adjacent sites, none of these trees - although certain very old - can possibly be the trees under which Jesus prayed. Within a century, the area was denuded of every standing tree, which were piled around Jerusalem walls and set ablaze. This fire also destroyed Herod's magnificent temple.
However, suggests Dr. Wright, these trees could have grown up from the roots of the original trees when a Byzantine church was built there some 1600 years ago. "Today, there is really no way to know exactly where Gethsemane was located since no archeological evidence remains and no large X marked the spot when it was destroyed. But draw a big circle around the area at the base of the mount and it is somewhere in there."
Dr. Wright also explained that at the time of Christ, the entire hillside was likely a garden with olive trees that fed Jerusalem and the temple's heavy demand for lamp fuel. Today, few olive trees remain above a landscape nearly paved - poetically enough - with tombstones.
"We can assume some things about the garden where Jesus prayed by logic," said Dr. Wright. "We can assume that it was in an area with intense enough olive cultivation to have a press. In Hebrew, the first connotation of garden is 'bounded' or 'protected area,' so it would have had a wall boundary. It would be big enough to have oil production. Jesus could have had access because property rights were more casual. As long as people didn't take the resources, they could walk through there and sit. Or perhaps someone Jesus knew owned the garden."
The Bible tells us that somewhere on the hillside of the Mount of Olives grew a garden holding a vital piece of equipment: a gethsemane or gat shemanim, which means "oil press" in Hebrew. After the autumn harvest, raw olives were hauled to the base of the mountain, poured into a trough, and an animal-powered millstone rolled over them, bruising them to their core. The smashed olives were sandwiched between heavy stones and the oil expressed. This press of rock and olives was the gethsemane.
In this garden, wherever it is located on the Mount of Olives, while His nearest and dearest slept off a meal, the Jesus underwent a gethsemane of the soul as His will to live was crushed. He sweat great drops of blood as the weight of our sin was laid upon Him. By Divine design, His willingness to take that burden for us is the fuel that makes Him the Light of the World.
Dr. Wright noted that the Church of All Nations is built around a huge rock that tradition remembers as the rock were Jesus prayed. It is believed that a fourth century church was built over it to preserve it.
But wherever He prayed, He could easily see the Temple Mount across the Kidron Valley, where a conspiracy, led by one of His own, was being plotted. Coming down the very road into Jerusalem where He rode in on a donkey just a few days before, He could see an armed but appalling inept mob coming for Him with a slapstick clumsiness that under any other circumstance would be laughable. Certainly, Jesus could have slipped into the darkness and eluded them - if He had chosen to.
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