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In the Garden

Several weeks ago, I spent three days with a small group of pastoral colleagues in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. We’ve been gathering to support each other in our vocations for the last couple of years. Our time together was filled with unhurried meals, late evenings, meandering conversations, and lots of praying and laughing.

One of the gifts of that retreat was daily group meditation on Scripture. Each day, we’d read, listen to, and savor St. Mark’s telling of Jesus’ passion.

In one of those quiet moments, our group noticed the distinct turn that Jesus’ story takes in the Garden of Gethsemane.

As any astute reader of the Gospel quickly notices, Mark’s telling of Jesus’ life is spare and brisk. Mark doesn’t mess around with stories about Jesus’ birth or childhood. He doesn’t bother with long genealogies. Jesus is announced as the Beloved Son, and then wastes no time getting going. Jesus calls people to follow; he preaches; he travels. Jesus stills storms and heals broken bodies and feeds the masses. He is the singular subject of the action in Mark’s narration.

And then, Jesus is betrayed.

After this, there’s a distinct shift. From that point until his death, Jesus is the subject of only nine verbs. He receives the actions of others; others lead him, deliberate about him, do him violence.

Handed Over

Interestingly, even though our English Bibles often employ the word “betray” to translate the kiss of Judas in Gethsemane, the New Testament doesn’t itself use the usual word we usually translate “betray.” Of the 33 times the New Testament references Judas’ insidious action, in all but two, the word used is literally “handed over.”

This is how Jesus himself describes what transpires: “the Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death. . .” (Mark 10.33-34). A few decades later, Paul would use this word while wondering at the immensities of God’s love in Christ: “If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not withhold his own Son, but handed him over for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else?” (Romans 8.31-32)

Paradoxically, Jesus fulfills his vocation most fully, not when he’s acting, but when he’s acted upon. Not when he heals, teaches, leads; but when he gives himself to suffering and death. Not in action, but in passion.

The spiritual writer Henri Nouwen observed that “Jesus does not fulfill his vocation in action only but also in passion. . . Precisely when Jesus is being handed over into his passion, he manifests his glory. . . in the handing over we see the glory of God who hands himself over to us. God’s glory revealed in Jesus embraces passion as well as resurrection.”

It’s in the weakness and helplessness of being handed over to the cross that the glory of Jesus shines the brightest.

The Journey from Action to Passion

Holy Week invites us to make this journey from action to passion.

Think about how deeply, in contemporary Western life, we define ourselves by what we earn, accomplish, achieve, acquire. By what we do. And inevitably, we’re undone when, because of catastrophe or misfortune or the inevitable march of time, we can’t accomplish or earn anymore.

Holy Week invites us into the journey of Jesus: of finding God as we relinquish ourselves from what we have — or haven’t — accomplished in life. To simply receiving the love of the God who hands himself over to us.

I wonder about this, even as a pastor. For many who serve the Church in some way, this week between Palm Sunday and Easter is crammed with action: worship to coordinate. Sermons to preach. Programs to lead.

Over these next days, I want to be intentional about slowing down, being still. Entering with empty hands into the story of Jesus’ crucified love. Receiving the unfathomable grace of the God who hands himself over to us.

Jared Ayers

Jared Ayers serves as the senior pastor of First Presbyterian Church in North Palm Beach, Florida. Prior to this, he founded and served as the senior pastor of Liberti Church in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He is a graduate of Western Theological Seminary & the Newbigin House of Studies. Jared and his wife Monica have been married for 16 years, and have been graced with two sons and a daughter.


  • Jim says:

    Most helpful. Thank you!

  • Daniel Bos says:

    There is a whole book on this very topic !
    W. H. Vanstone, THE STATURE OF WAITING, Morehouse Publishing, Harrisburg, Copyright 1982, 2006.
    The first two chapters are about the difference between and significance of “handing over” versus “betraying.”
    The rest of the book identifies the “passion” of Jesus as his “passivirty” which began from the time he restored the ear of Malchus until his death. This is the glory of Jesus which was seen by the centurion at the cross.
    Instructive and inspiring.
    I learned about this book from my friend James LaGrand, who found comfort in it when he was suffering with Lewy Body Dementia until he died in 2015.
    Since then I have been looking for someone who has read the book so that I would have someone with whom to discuss it.

    • jared ayers says:

      Vanstone’s book is excellent! I consulted Stature of Waiting, as well as the essay by Nouwen I quoted, as I was writing this. I appreciate his work a lot- he’s got another book called “Love’s Endeavor, Love’s Expense” that’s really wonderful as well.

      • Daniel Bos says:

        Thank you for your reply. It is good to know that the book is being appreciated.
        Thank you also for the invitation to follow Jesus from action into passion.

  • Daniel Meeter says:

    To be a disciple is to be willing to die, pure and simple, no Dallas Willard overload, no evangelical “discipleship” no Navigators, no Wesleyan sanctification only Diocletian sanctification, So discipleship, contra RCA restructuring and every nice Evangelical, is simply to be willing to be “passioned.” What you write here is profoundly foretold in Bach’s St. Matthew Passion. What you write is very Lutheran, and actually very Calvinists in implications.

    • jared ayers says:

      Thanks, friend! Have been listening to Bach’s Matthew’s Passion this week in fact…

    • Daniel Bos says:

      If you would be so kind as to give me your email address, I would like to comment privately about your reply to Jared Ayers for his RJ Blog, Action & Passion, on March 27.

  • Rowland Van Es, Jr says:

    It’s hard for pastors, teachers, and other doers to shift from doing to being, from thinking to feeling, etc. We spend so much time and energy worrying about what we are (or aren’t) accomplishing, we forget that there is something God wants to accomplish in us, allowing us to be or become who we are: God’s beloved beings.

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