A garden variety error

Yesterday was Palm Sunday, which meant special services for many Christians. My congregation gathered outside with palms for the first reading, then sang the 9th century hymn "All Glory, Laud and Honor" as we all processed into the sanctuary. Our children's choir, bell choir and horns were all in action. And we also had what I'm sure is the longest Gospel reading of the year, so long that we took six singing breaks. The reading is literally 141 verses long, All of Matthew 26 and all of Matthew 27. I wrangled and threatened my children and somehow we got through it. I'm also happy to report that my 1-year-old has stopped shouting "No!" during the sermon. Mostly. Anyway, we just read this entire Passion account, so the details are even fresher in my mind than normal. So I have to take this opportunity to needle one of my very favorite writers, P.J. O'Rourke.

In yesterday's New York Times. P.J. O'Rourke reviews The Pun Also Rises: How the Humble Pun Revolutionized Language, Changed History, and Made Wordplay More Than Some Antics, by John Pollack. And in the midst of the review, he writes:

The problem with Pollack's historical survey of puns is that it misses the greatest puns in history. He ignores many of the best practitioners of the idiom -- Jesus and Sir Charles Napier, to name two. Jesus said to his disciple Peter, "Upon this rock I will build my church." That was not only a pun on Peter's name, which means rock, but also a pun on the character of Peter, who, in the garden of Gethsemane, would deny Jesus thrice before cockcrow. Napier led an unauthorized conquest of the Indian emirate of Sind and is supposed to have sent Queen Victoria a one-word dispatch: "Peccavi." (Latin for "I have sinned.")

No one writes better than O'Rourke about sex, drugs and economics. But this is in error. Many things happened in the Garden of Gethsemane. For instance, according to the Gospel of Matthew:

Then Jesus came with them to a place called Gethsemane, and said to the disciples, "Sit here while I go and pray over there." And He took with Him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and He began to be sorrowful and deeply distressed. Then He said to them, "My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death. Stay here and watch with Me." He went a little farther and fell on His face, and prayed, saying, "O My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will." Then He came to the disciples and found them sleeping, and said to Peter, "What! Could you not watch with Me one hour? Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak."

The Garden of Gethsemane is also where Peter sliced off the ear of the high priest's servant. But the Garden of Gethsemane was not where Peter denied Christ. According to Matthew:

Now Peter sat outside in the courtyard. And a servant girl came to him, saying, "You also were with Jesus of Galilee." But he denied it before them all, saying, "I do not know what you are saying." And when he had gone out to the gateway, another girl saw him and said to those who were there, "This fellow also was with Jesus of Nazareth." But again he denied with an oath, "I do not know the Man!" And a little later those who stood by came up and said to Peter, "Surely you also are one of them, for your speech betrays you." Then he began to curse and swear, saying, "I do not know the Man!" Immediately a rooster crowed. And Peter remembered the word of Jesus who had said to him, "Before the rooster crows, you will deny Me three times." So he went out and wept bitterly.

Peter was in the garden of Gethsemane and he did deny Jesus thrice before the cock crowed, but the denying didn't take place in the Garden.

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