He came out and went, as was His custom, to the Mount of Olives; and the disciples followed Him. When He reached the place, He said to them ‘Pray that you may not come into the time of trial.” Luke 22: 30-40 (NRSV)
No high place is more storied than the Mount of Olives. Here Jesus wept over the city and this is where He spent the night of His betrayal, though on this night Jesus is not at the mountain’s peak.
It is a humble mountain, just under 2700 feet at its highest point and accessible enough to have been used for centuries as a Jewish cemetery. It is sacred to all three of the great monotheistic faiths and some even believe it is here that the resurrection of the dead will start at the coming of the Messiah. But in this passage Jesus is not even at the peak of what anyone who has seen any of the great ranges would consider little more than a foothill. He is instead in the Garden that climbs its slopes.
Yes it is a storied enough landscape and mentioned often in Scripture, but it is not the very great mountain of temptation in the wilderness story. It is nonetheless the location of Jesus last night on earth. It is also a locale with words that leave the modern mind perplexed.
“Pray that you not come into trial.” What does that even mean? Prior to the New Revised Standard Version, the word “trial” was read as “temptation.” But even that does not bode with the contemporary ear. Surely for most of us, our temptations are small. But this night temptation is not so small and Jesus is in the Garden as certainly as Earth’s first couple.
In our mythos, we are all in the Garden. We are told of our autonomy and told we can eat of any tree save one. And in our mythos we are also to find ourselves in Gethsemane where we are left with only one tree from which we can eat.
Too often religious morality plays itself out by telling us what we are not to do. The temptation is certainly there at Lent. It is the Eden mentality. Don’t eat chocolate, don’t smoke etc. Pick out one fruit from the Garden from which you are not to eat and then be gorged on the others.
The more righteous question comes from Gethsemane. From what tree are we to eat? The answer has always been the Tree of Life. What then are the other trees, the ones of which we are no longer to eat. These are the places of our trial. They are the trees that reduce our morality to the harsh cold world of objectivism or the slippery slope of relativism.
The trial is certainly there. It is the temptation to find any system that places our manufactured values and its fruits above that of the Tree of Life and its life giving fruit. It is the place where our small sacrifices or our prudishness or our libertine lives have more merit than walking in the Garden and dining with our brothers and sisters on the Tree of Life.
Pray then not to walk into temptation or trial. Walk up the slopes into the Garden and do not slumber, but be fed by Him who is the Tree of Life.