Garden of Gethsemane on the Mount of Olives

Notes

Mount of Olives

The mountainous ridge called the Mount of Olives stretches totay from the Hebrew University Mount Scopus campus in the north to the Jewish cemetery and beyond, to the village of Silwan in the south. Between these two ends of the mountain are the olive trees from which the mountain takes its name. The area at the bottom of the mountain would have been the place for the olive gardens and an olive press, “Gat shemen” in Hebrew, from which the name “Gethsemane” comes.

The gospels record on more than one occasion Jesus’ sorrow for Jerusalem as he made his way down the slopes of the Mount of Olives. It was a path he would have known from childhood from His many visits to Jerusalem.

Down the road from Bethphage He came riding on a donkey colt with palm branches symbolic of Judaea strewn along the way. “Hosanna!” (“save now!”) was the cry upon the lips of the people (Matthew 21:1-9). This prayer from Psalm 118:25 was a request for salvation. Yet Jesus knew that these cries would be changed within a week to “Crucify him!” He wept again for Jerusalem, for He knew what would befall the people in less than one generation as the city would be besieged and taken.

Garden of Gethsemane

Towards the end of Palm Sunday Road, we come to Gethsemane. Gethsemane means “oil press” or “oil stores”. In Hebrew it is gat shemanim. It is a place where we find ancient olive trees and olive presses and storage areas.

Gethsemane is the place of many events in the life of Jesus: his betrayal, teaching of his disciples, and time spent alone with his Father. Luke 21:37 tells us that Jesus slept here at night; Luke 29:39 tells us that it was his custom to go here, and John 18:2 tells that Jesus often met his disciples here. The present location fits the description of Gethsemane at the time of Jesus and this tradition has been maintained since about 330 A.D. In this area, we find the Garden of Gethsemane, the Basilica of the Agony, and the Cave of Betrayal.

The Franciscan Church of All Nations contains the Garden of Gethsemane outside and the Basilica of the Agony within. In the garden, there are eight olive trees that may well be over 1,000 years old. The olive tree does not die, but continues to live even if cut down, by producing new shoots from its roots.

The Garden of Gethsemane is the place where Jesus left his disciples and asked them to sit while he went to pray (Matthew 26:36). He then took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee (James and John) and began to be sorrowful and very heavy. He asked them to wait there and keep watch for him as he went a little farther where he fell on his face and prayed (at the rock in the Basilica of Agony) (Matthew 26:37 46). It is interesting to note that Peter, James and John were the three who witnessed the transfiguration of Jesus and the glory of it, and now they were witnessing the agony and the perfect submission of Jesus to the will of his Father.

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