Gethsemane. The“oil-pressing place”. Sinking onto a scattered patch of slightly dried grass and trying to avoid staining my pants with the multitude of crushed olives that littered the ground, I tossed the name of the place around in my mind. A slight breeze blew past my face, rustling the leaves of the olive tree that hovered above me, which cast speckled shadows across its gnarly trunk. I glanced around at my fellow travelers, who were spread around the garden, some draped in positions of silent repose on benches, others passionately scribbling in open notebooks, and still others doubled over in desperate prayer, weeping before the Lord in the garden where He wept so many years ago. My Bible sat open on the ground beside me where I had distractedly laid it, and a fresh page of my journal peeked up at me from my lap, awaiting written prayers and the new revelations I had been sure I would find in this place. I knew I should be praying, but the question lingered in my mind, gnawing at me: Why here? Of all of the beautiful places around Jerusalem, why would Jesus choose an olive grove as His place to retreat and pray before He was dragged away to be crucified? The garden would not have been a holy place to pray, and the olive trees that dotted the garden were far too thin and sparse to provide much privacy or protection from the mob that stormed upon Him. So why here?
As I studied the olive tree closest to me, I recalled something our tour guide, Yaacov Shabat, had described a few days before, when we traveled through Capernaum. He had gathered us around a large millstone and explained the long and arduous process of olive oil production from the olive’s harvest to the oil’s uses. He had said that after their harvest, the olives were cast into a circular stone trough to be crushed by a large millstone, and after being crushed, the remaining paste was spread out in an olive press and weights were gradually added until the precious oil flowed out of the press. “The more pressure someone applied to an olive at once,” he explained, “the purer the oil would be, and the more likely that it would be used in holy ceremonies as priestly anointing oil”. It was more than likely, I mused, that because of the grove’s proximity to the temple in Jerusalem, the olives found there would be specially crushed and pressed to create oil for temple use. As I considered this, I felt a prick in my spirit, and I knew I had hit upon an important thought, but I felt at a loss to understand any possible connection between olive oil and the prayers of my Lord.
Just then, I was startled from my musings by an abrasive honk and the sound of tires swerving across the road that ran by the Garden. At that moment, I was keenly aware of the noise of the city that rested like a blanket over the entire area, with the Muslim call to prayer blaring from a nearby minaret while people honked and shouted at each other on the road. This may have been a quiet place to pray during Jesus’ time, but it certainly wasn’t one now. Trying to turn my thoughts and attention back to Christ yet again, I leaned back against the rough stone wall that ran around the Garden, putting my hand back behind me to support my weight. Instead of the hard earth that I expected, I felt a cold squelch underneath my palm, and I recoiled in surprise, my hand dripping with a dark oily mixture. I glanced down at the fallen olive that I had crushed beneath my hand and tried to wipe the oil off on a patch of grass, but to my dismay, the color had sunk into my skin, staining my palm a bright red, like blood. I paused. As Jesus prayed in Gethsemane, He knew His hands were about to be stained, just like mine, but His would be stained with blood. The noise around me seemed to fade into the distance as I heard a holy voice whisper deep within my soul, just like that olive, Jesus was crushed too.
As the Holy Spirit stirred my soul, all the pieces began to fall together in my mind. Why would Jesus come to Gethsemane? Because “it was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer” (Isaiah 53:10). I remembered how the gospel writers described Jesus as he prayed in the Garden: deeply distressed, troubled to the point of death, in such great anguish that the sweat pressed out of him fell like drops of blood on the mottled stone. Here in the very place where olives were pressed to create holy anointing oil that made people clean, God the Father “crushed [Jesus] for our iniquities” so that we could be anointed by His blood, and made spiritually clean before Him (Isaiah 53:5). Silent and still, I continued to sit there in the Garden, staring in my oil-stained hands, my heart lifted to God in awestruck reverence. As our tour guide called to us to pack up our things so that we could move on to the next site, I slowly gathered my notebook and pens, reluctant to leave the holy moment I was in. I reached for my Bible, which lay open on the ground beside me, accidentally brushing my hand across the crinkled pages. Immediately, I stopped short when an underlined verse on that page caught my attention: “We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair” (2 Corinthians 4:8). A wave of emotion washed over me as the words sunk into my mind, and I realized afresh why God had brought me to Gethsemane. Although I may feel pressed and perplexed in life, I can still lift my hands in humble worship, knowing that while I may be pressed, I will never be crushed, because Jesus was crushed for me.