Gabriel and Gethsemane

One of the reasons I felt so guilty about struggling with this pregnancy is because I look at the example of Our Lady, who upon hearing the news that she was to conceive, something that could have had grave and life-threatening repercussions for her, adultery carrying the penalty of stoning, was instantly accepting of God’s will, and indeed joyful, giving glory to God in her singing of the Magnificat.

My soul doth magnify the Lord.And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.Because he hath regarded the humility of his handmaid;for behold from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed.Because he that is mighty,hath done great things to me;and holy is his name. And his mercy is from generation unto generations,to them that fear him.He hath shewed might in his arm:he hath scattered the proud in the conceit of their heart.He hath put down the mighty from their seat,and hath exalted the humble.He hath filled the hungry with good things;and the rich he hath sent empty away.He hath received Israel his servant,being mindful of his mercy:As he spoke to our fathers, Abraham and to his seed for ever.

No evidence of “aargh, what a nightmare, I feel sick, this isn’t really what I wanted, I’m going to be a pregnant bride, not what a planned, oh no, this is such a disaster, everyone is going to hate me, I hate myself, what if I resent the baby, I’m going to have no sleep, I’m exhausted, we’ve got that journey to make to Bethlehem, I’ll be about to drop, they might kill me and it’s not even as if I’ve had sex, it’s so unfair.”

I’ve clearly got some way to go. But with that in mind, I was recalling Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. His acceptance of God’s will was not “right, OK, gee thanks Pops” skipping his way off to Calvary. The Gospels tell us that he prayed in agony in the Garden of Gethsemane, for this burden to be removed from him, he prayed that he might do God’s will, but that God’s will might be something other than the dreadful price that he had to pay. Christ emerges from Gethsemane, covered in sweat, following a night of tortuous agony.

Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me.Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.” And there appeared to him an angel from heaven, strengthening him. And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground. Luke 22: 42-45

Which gives rise to the question, why the different responses, and the potentially heretical thought, was Mary more open to the will of God than Jesus?

I think the answer has to be that Mary did not have the same agency of choice as Jesus. She was presented with a fait accompli and told what would happen. Gabriel was simply the messenger, he could not alter what had already been determined. Mary’s response could have been a lot different, her joyful outpouring of praise is proof of her sinless nature and openness to God, but she did not have the option to refuse, due to her lack of sin, just as Gabriel did not have the option to take away her pregnancy. Abortion would not have been an option in 1st century Judea, while there were probably various herbal remedies and preparations available to women, it was not the society of 21st Century Britain, where every pregnancy is deemed to be a matter of personal choice, there wasn’t a handy Marie Stopes offering abortion in every market for 20 denarii. As an orthodox Jew the idea was simply unthinkable, even if one isn’t talking about disobeying God or killing his only unborn son. Mary did not pray for mercy or respite, she did not complain, she rejoiced, in spite of her lack of control. Gabriel tells her “you will”, she could have refused to co-operate, but she is instantly accepting and believing. I think the importance is in the quality of her yes. God prepared her from all eternity to be the mother of the Redeemer, which whilst not taking away her free will.

Jesus, by contrast, had a more overt agency of choice. He prayed, not that his will was done, but that the Father’s will might be obeyed. Theologians have speculated that being the Son of God, Jesus could at any time, have summoned a legion of angels to remove him from the cross. We know that Christ was capable of performing miracles, there is the account in John of when the crowd at Nazareth rejected Jesus, drove him out of the town and to the brow of a hill in order to throw him off a cliff, and yet Christ serenely walked through the surging crowd intent on killing him and on his way. Christ had a choice and he chose the way of the Cross to Calvary; he choose to accept suffering and death for the sake of mankind and it was this choice that caused him so much torment. He was in agony in Gethsemane because he wanted his Father’s will to be something other than a tortuous death, in order to atone for the sins of mankind. Jesus chose to bend his actions to the way of the Father, no matter the personal cost to himself.

Where does that leave me? Somewhere in the middle. As various comments have noted, it’s not as though I had nothing to do with becoming pregnant, unlike our Blessed Virgin. Whilst I can aspire to the response of Mary and look to her as an example, whilst praying for intercession, I can also look at her son, the Redeemer who took on our human frailties and suffers along with us. He too, found it difficult, His was not an easy choice, it was a path beset by pain and suffering, but a price worth paying, one from which he emerged victorious, having done the will of God.

So whilst not on Calvary, I am still somewhere in the garden of Gethsemane, sweating drops like blood, knowing that the choice I’ve made which seems almost unbearable at times and is certainly full of great physical pain as well as fear, anxiety and uncertainty, will ultimately bear beautiful fruit. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is very weak.