Possibly one of the most haunting depictions of the Agony in the Garden is Bellini’s piece. Though all around the landscape seems lush, where Jesus is the landscape is barren and almost seems like he is on a different planet altogether. While the disciples sleep and men with evil designs come closer to them, Jesus prays at an outcrop, looking to heaven, while an angel appears to Him, holding outstretched a cup.
The image of the angel holding a cup is far from unusual — there are many other artworks of this biblical scene that use this symbolism. Yet, in this artwork, combined with the stark land and the strangeness of the perspectives which are not realistic, the angel really stands out and almost seems eerie.
This in contrast with the biblical passage seemed a little bit odd to me at first. Looking at the bible passage in Luke, it reads:
39Then going out he went, as was his custom, to the Mount of Olives, and the disciples followed him. 40When he arrived at the place he said to them, “Pray that you may not undergo the test.” 41After withdrawing about a stone’s throw from them and kneeling, he prayed, 42saying, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup away from me; still, not my will but yours be done.” [43And to strengthen him an angel from heaven appeared to him. 44He was in such agony and he prayed so fervently that his sweat became like drops of blood falling on the ground.] 45When he rose from prayer and returned to his disciples, he found them sleeping from grief.
According to the bible, the angel is giving Jesus strength. And yet, in this artwork, the angel is also clearly offering him the cup that Jesus has asked the Father to take away from Him, if it is the Father’s will.
I didn’t like that at first. When I think of God strengthening me, I like to think that God is strengthening me to do what I want to do, rather than face conflicts and hard situations that I know I have to face, but I don’t want to face anyway. When I pray to God about these situations, usually I will only pray for God to remove me from the situation at hand — I don’t bother to ask for strength to face the situation that is coming at me head-on like a freight train. And then I get mad at God for not responding to my desires!
Yet, Jesus shows us a different way to pray. He shows us that, while it’s perfectly okay for us to ask for our desires and to ask for the difficulty in our lives to be removed, it’s also important for us to surrender to God, even in the midst of the vale of tears. And, through that surrender, God will come through and give us the strength we need to carry on, even when things get difficult.
Help us find strength in You, especially in the midst of our sorrows and sufferings.