ABC Extra – Deep Anxiety

August 9, 2010 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

It’s called hematidrosis.  Dr. Frederick Zugibe, the Chief Medical Examiner of Rockland County, New York, explains the disease:  “Around the sweat glands, there are multiple blood vessels in a net-like form.  Under the pressure of great stress the vessels constrict.  Then as the anxiety passes the blood vessels dilate to the point of rupture.  The blood goes into the sweat glands.  As the sweat glands are producing a lot of sweat, it pushes the blood to the surface – coming out as droplets of blood mixed with sweat.”  What a gruesome picture Dr. Zugibe paints of someone so stressed and so anxious that he actually sweats blood!

The evangelist Luke recounts Jesus’ final hours:

Jesus went out as usual to the Mount of Olives, and His disciples followed Him. On reaching the place, He said to them, “Pray that you will not fall into temptation.” He withdrew about a stone’s throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed, “Father, if You are willing, take this cup from Me; yet not My will, but Yours be done.” An angel from heaven appeared to Him and strengthened Him.  And being in anguish, He prayed more earnestly, and His sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground. (Luke 22:39-44)

Jesus’ final hours before His crucifixion were so anxiety inducing that He developed a case of hematidrosis.  Indeed, when Luke relays that Jesus was “in anguish” in verse 44, the Greek word is agonia.  I’ll let you guess to what English word this is related.  But needless to say, it’s not related to a word for peace and serenity.

One of the things that never ceases to impress me about Jesus’ life and ministry is how Jesus not only experiences all that we experience, but He experiences it in a deeper and fuller way that we experience it.  We experience anxiety.  Jesus experiences anxiety to such a level that He develops the extremely rare condition of hematidrosis.  It is not surprising, then, that the preacher of Hebrews would say of Christ, “We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have One who has been tempted in every way, just as we are – yet was without sin” (Hebrews 4:15).  Being tempted in every way means that a mammoth amount of temptation was leveled at Jesus, greater temptation than any of us know, for who of us can say, “I have been tempted in every way?”  But Jesus was.  Jesus experienced it all – literally.  Thus, it behooves us to take Jesus at His word when He says things like:

Do not worry, saying, “What shall we eat?” or “What shall we drink?” or “What shall we wear?”  For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them.  But seek first His kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.  Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. (Matthew 6:31-34)

If Jesus warns us against anxiety, then perhaps we ought to listen.  Because if there’s one person who knows anxiety, it’s Jesus.  After all, He experienced tremendously – indeed, He experienced it infinitely – in the Garden.

So then, how are we to combat anxiety, for anxiety is something which we all experience?  Jesus says that pagans try to combat anxiety by running.  They run after food and drink and clothes, thinking that if they could just acquire the right things or the right knowledge or the right securities, then their anxieties would be alleviated.  But such a run is futile.  It only results in more anxiety.  Instead, we are to seek.  We are to seek the things of God, even as Jesus Himself seeks the will of God as He experiences anxiety in the Garden.  Jesus prays, “Not My will, but Yours be done” (Luke 22:42).  May we, like Jesus, seek God in our anxieties.  For He alone can give us strength to confront them and walk through them.

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