Not too long ago I posted a picture of an ancient olive press for Wordless Wednesday, and since then have hinted at a post regarding the significance of an olive press and the agony of Jesus in the Garden at Gethsemane. I’ve finally gotten around to it.
If you are like our family we have begun substituting olive oil for vegetable oil in most of our cooking. Of course, if we are in the mood for traditional Southern fare….fried chicken, fried okra, and fried ‘taters (potatoes)…then Wesson oil is the best bet. Luckily for the sake of our precious arteries we don’t enjoy fried food much anymore.
I love to use olive oil. It was the staple of the ancient Mediterranean world, and it still is very important today. During the time of Jesus and for hundreds of years before that, people in the ancient world used olive oil for more than just cooking. The Menorah in the Temple was lit with wicks dipped in olive oil, and even today many Jews use pure olive oil in their Chanukah Menorah. The people of Judea ate the olives, used the oil as a preservative, and as a lubricant for skin care. It was also used as oil for anointing. Jesus was described as the “Anointed One”, and later Christians were referred to as Masseheen in Arabic which means anointed with olive oil. The story of the Good Samaritan told by Jesus refers to olive oil being used for healing.
It is then not surprising that God, through the writers of the Gospel, would place olives and olive trees in the text to be used as a metaphor to explain Jesus’ suffering and ultimate redemption of mankind
Amazingly olive trees will grow where other plants will not. They thrive in rocky and unproductive soil. The Garden of Gethsemane was such a place. Olive trees were abundant on the Mount of Olives, which is a ridge that ran north and south of Jerusalem. Some sources state the ridge is two hundred feet higher than the temple mount. In fact, Gethsemane means “oil press.” Therefore when Jesus set out for the Garden he went to the very spot where he could look out over Jerusalem and where he would begin the process of his agony…where he would “pressed upon”
Today there are many methods of picking olives, however, in ancient times they beat the trees which caused the ripe olives to fall to the ground. Today the same method can be used with machines though some growers pick the olives by hand as well.
Once the olives are gathered they were placed on a circular stone basin in which a millstone sat. Perhaps you have seen animals walking in circles around a millstone pushing the stone around grinding whatever is put beneath it. This is how the olives were crushed and eventually a paste was formed that included bits of leaves, twigs, and pieces of the millstone.
Through the crushing process liquid begins to emerge from the fruit. Interestingly the liquid is reddish in hue. It was in the Garden of Gethsemane that the coming events suddenly overtook Jesus. Part of the agony of Jesus was due to the knowledge that he was facing an unimaginable experience on the cross that involved an extremely painful and humiliating form of death. The general population believed that anyone who was crucified was cursed. The most horrible “pressing upon” that Jesus’ experienced, of course, was the oppressive feeling of bearing the weight of all human sin and separation from his Father.
The book of Luke (22:34) reminds us that “[Jesus’] agony became like drops of blood falling down upon the ground” much like the drops of red liqud from the crushed fruit.
Once the olives are crushed a paste forms that is smeared onto mats or burlap type fabric. Interestingly the Hebrew word for Messiah means “to smear”.
The baskets or mats are stacked under a huge stone column which was called the gethsemane or oil press. Luke 22: 42 and 44 explains that Jesus knelt and prayed several times, saying "Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me…."
Placed under pressure more liquid is pressed out of the olive paste much like the weight of our sins pressed out the very blood of our Savior that would result in eternal life for the world. After the oil was pressed out and collected it begins to separate leaving the pure oil. The remainder of the paste and liquid was used to make soap. The soap can be compared to the love Jesus had for mankind that washes away their sins.
Recently I purchased a container of liquid soap for my kitchen that contains olive oil. I love to use it because it doesn’t leave my hands all dried out. Normally I have to put lotion on immediately because I dislike the dry feeling.
Many of us live our lives feeling dry. We look everywhere for something, anything that will leave us feeling moisturized and feeling normal.
All we need is the love and acceptance of Jesus to take away the dry feeling. It lubricates our lives making our days work much smoother because the teachings of Jesus gives us a guidebook to live by.