In St. John’s Gospel we read of a most striking incident in the initial steps of the arrest of Christ in the Garden of Gethesemani. Here are the exact words as the inspired writer penned them: “Jesus therefore knowing all that was about to come upon him, went forth and said to them: ‘Whom do you seek?’ They answered him, ‘Jesus of Nazareth.’ Jesus said to them, ‘I am he.’ Now Judas, who betrayed him, was also standing with them: ‘I am he,’ they drew back and fell to the ground.” (Jn.18:5)
Christ had such a short time before been prostrated by the intense mental and physical pain and he had prayed and prayed and prayed, and He was strengthened by an Angel, but now we see Him composed and confident as He stands before the armed soldiers. There is no weakness now. There was superb control. He simply said three words, “I am He,” and the stalwart soldiers fell to the ground. Those who were so strong and arrogant lay prone, feeble, and impotent at Christ’s feet.
The great St. Augustine does a masterly job of applying this scene to our individual lives. He says that if Christ acted in this manner when he was about to be arrested and judged by ungodly men, what will He be like when He is the judge? If He displays such a power at the moment He was about to be sentenced to death, what will His power be like when he stands in all His power and glory to judge each one of us?
If the simple words “I am He,” spoken by the Redeemer of the world had power enough in them to topple His enemies like tenpins or toy soldiers, imagine the effect of His voice when it is used to call us to account for our sins. St. Jerome asserts that when our Lord said to the soldiers: “I am He,” a gleam of such fiery brightness flashed out of His eyes that the soldiers fell to the earth as if struck by lightening. In the anticipation of that dread day of judgment let us cast ourselves down at the feet of our Redeemer as a sign of sincere contrition and repentance for our sins.
You will note that St. John says that “Judas, who betrayed Him, was also standing with them” (the soldiers) and presumably, he too was cast to the ground. The effect of this great miracle on Judas was nil. The habit of sin and impenitence had hardened the betrayer’s heart and blinded Him to the Divinity of the Master.
St. Paul once felt the power of the voice of God. He was thrown from his horse at Damascus and he arose from the ground a new man. Judas was thrown from to the ground in Gethsemani but arose unchanged. What has this holy season of Lent done for you? Will you be closer to God, love Him more, and serve Him better because of your having done some voluntary penances, said more and better prayers, resolved to avoid the occasions of sin in persons, places, or things, or will you, like the betrayer, be unchanged, undisciplined, and unrepentant? Make your answer [now].