But I am like a green olive tree in the house of God;
I trust in the mercy of God for ever and ever. (Psalm 52:8)
The earthy smell of the olive trees in Gethsemane, ancient and alive at the same time, reminds Jesus of Martha and Mary. He smiles in the dark, his face wet with tears.
His disciples follow him as best they can, but look at them sleeping over there on this night so heavy with decision!
The men and women who crowd around him are sometimes caught up in his vision of the kingdom of God, sometimes seem to understand what he’s trying to say, but it’s his friend Mary who draws the vision out of him, whose listening ear gives him space to talk.
And it’s Martha who makes a home for him to rest in, to eat and drink and recover from the stress of his ministry.
He’s in agony now in the grey moments before dawn on this Friday morning, his heart racing just as it was when he heard that his friend, their brother Lazarus, had died.
Martha challenged Jesus right there in the road when he finally arrived — “if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” Hands on her hips, she gets right in his face: “You should have done something!”
Martha’s love drives him to tears, the living water pouring from him in waves of grief and love, like healing oil for his friends, for her and Mary and Lazarus.
“Lazarus, come out!” he says.
The wailing of the mourners in Bethany is silenced, and all he can hear is tree limbs creaking in the breeze. The scent of the grave clothes is sharp and pungent, earthy and spicy.
The first time he had come to Bethany, the whole house was warm, and the aroma of bread and spices filled his senses.
Martha was cooking something delicious – everything she made was delicious – and she gave him some green olives to eat before dinner was ready.
She chided Mary for not helping, but he laughed and said Mary had chosen the better part, and it would not be taken from her.
Mary held a rose in her lap, and she was listening, helping him to relax and put his thoughts in order while Martha busied herself in the background. The sharp taste of the olives kept his mind from wandering.
“You are busy with many things, Martha. There is only one needful thing.”
Like a green olive tree
On one knee in the crowded Jerusalem street, he struggles to rise. The earthy scent and the deadly weight of the wooden beam press him down, causing blood to flow freely from his wounded back and head.
Later, as he hangs from the cross, his breath getting shallower and more labored in the noonday heat, he is given a taste of sour wine.
His eyes close. What he wouldn’t give for another taste of green olives, for another evening in the warmth of Martha’s home!
Pain pierces his hands and feet in waves of grief and love as he stretches out his arms, offering himself with the same gesture she made when the meal was ready and she invited him and Mary to come to the table.
“Take, eat …”
“They know not what they do … but now I know what I am doing.”
“Lord, I know that the Messiah is coming.”
“I am the resurrection and the life … O Martha, believe.”
His vision of the kingdom completely clear now, he speaks to the one hanging next to him.
“Today you will be with me in Paradise.”
“But as for me, I am like a green olive tree in the house of God.”
In the garden of Gethsemane stand olive trees that are more than 2,000 years old.
Fr. Aran tells me they still smell earthy and spicy, ancient and alive, just as they did in Jesus’ time.
They have endured the endless agonies of men and women down the centuries, continually bearing fruit from their gnarled limbs and giving oil for healing.
Another beloved disciple and friend of Jesus did catch his vision and followed the Way of his Lord into old age. In a revelation, John glimpsed “the holy city, the new Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God” (Rev. 21:2).
In the center of the heavenly city flows the river of the water of life, “and on either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month, and the leaves of the tree – like a green olive tree in the house of God — are for the healing of the nations” (Rev. 22:2).