Friday, March 22, 2013

Sweating Blood

Luke has  a detail in his description of Jesus praying in the Garden of Gethsemane that none of the other gospel writers include, and it has always intrigued me.  “In his anguish he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down on the ground.”  For the longest time I never knew what to make of that statement.  In high school I read a physicians description of Jesus’ crucifixion, and the writer said that in times of extreme stress capillaries in the forehead can rupture and the blood can mix with sweat, so I just assumed that it was a physical description of what happened.
Except that isn’t what Luke says.  He says that his sweat became like great drops of blood.  As a simile that never worked for me.   In what way does “great drops of blood” describe sweat?  Are drops of blood larger than drops of sweat?  Does one bleed more profusely than one sweats?  What exactly is Luke describing?
In The Passion of Christ, Mel Gibson played up the physical agony of Jesus, showing in graphic detail the lashing, the beating, the nailing, etc., but the gospel writers don’t really make much of Jesus’ physical suffering.  Mark just says, “And they crucified him.”  What the gospel writers emphasize is Jesus’ emotional anguish; he is betrayed, denied, abandoned, mocked, and reviled.  This is what Luke records: it’s in his anguish that he sweats blood.
And if you have ever loved someone so much that they are a part of you, you understand the simile.  Keeping the marriage vow, for instance, will make you sweat drops of blood.  There have been many, many happy times in my marriage to Pam, but after 31 1/2 years I can tell you that there have been times when both of us sweated drops of blood.  Truth is, it didn’t take that long.  Pam is a wonderful woman, but she is also a wonderfully complex woman, just as I am a complicated man.  We all are.  I don’t fully understand her, and she doesn’t fully understand me, and that was especially true those first few years when I was in seminary and working part-time jobs while she was working full-time in low-man-on-the-totem-pole jobs.  There were times when each of us wondered privately, “What in the world did I get myself into?”  And through the years there were times when we each thought that life would be so much easier if we weren’t tied to the alien being we call “the opposite sex.”  Keeping the marriage commitment requires sweating blood.  It’s not easy, and I don’t reckon it’s supposed to be.  But it’s worth it.  And it’s gotten easier as we have learned to accept each other and forgive each other.  We have grown closer together over those 31+ years so that we truly understand the “one flesh” concept.  And that means that there will be even more times when we will sweat blood, because when she hurts, I hurt, and when I hurt, she hurts.  There is a cost that comes with being faithful, but it is a cost gladly paid, even if in blood.
Being a father is a wonderful thing as well, but having raised two kids through the teenage years and into young adulthood, I understand what sweating blood means.  All of the joy that I have had with Angela and Austin didn’t come without the cost of some blood, sweat and tears.  Growing up is hard, and its not easy for a parent to watch a child struggle, knowing that there is really nothing you can do about it.  Some struggles they just have to figure out for themselves.  Commitment and faithfulness sometimes means not getting involved, not rescuing them.  And the watching can be tough.
The blood Jesus was sweating, albeit figuratively, is the price of being faithful in love.  “Father,  I don’t want to do this, but if you say I must, then I will.”  And he did.   Biblical love—faithful, consistent love, unconditional love, not the  dreamy kind of love of movies and novels, but love in the grit and grime of the real world—sometimes demands that we enter a loneliness of duty, of fidelity, of giving up life so that we can find it.  Unconditional love and absolute faithfulness will sometimes drive us to our knees in anguish, praying for steadfastness, yes, but also seeking some easier way to have the joy that we want but at a lesser cost. 
And if that is true of our relationships with spouses and children, it is no less true of our relationship with God.  It's popular to call people to a relationship with God through Christ with promises of abundant life here on earth and eternal life in heaven, with assurances that faith in Christ will help your marriage and undergird the raising of children--and these things are true, I've experienced them.  But loving the Lord will all your heart, strength, and soul comes at a cost as well, and we would do well to speak plainly about that.  In his relationship with God Jesus experienced love's joy, but he also experienced love's anguishHe sweated blood because of his relationship with God, and we shouldn't expect anything different either.  He calls us to minister to a world that thinks upside down is rightside up, which means that we have to renounce upside down living.  But living rightside up in an upside down world is tough, especially when those who profit from the upside down world feel threatened.  But it's our calling.  It's what it takes if we are to follow a savior who was faithful unto death.

1 comment:

  1. Larry,

    I was going to say that I know what it means to sweat blood just being your friend, but I decided against it. So I won't say it.

    Your saturated friend,