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Note of the Day – April 14 (Luke 22:39-46; John 18:1-11)

The Prayer Scene—Mk 14:32-42; Matt 26:36-46; Lk 22:39-46

The Prayer scene in the Garden (or Gethsemane) is one of the most famous and moving portions of the Passion narrative, perhaps because of the powerful dramatic effect of seeing Jesus struggle with human fear and suffering—indicating how far he shared in the human condition (Heb 5:7, etc). The Synoptic Tradition makes this the central scene of the Passion narrative—epitomizing Jesus’ passion, properly speaking. The Markan outline vividly shows Jesus separate from the disciples, taking along with him only three (Peter and the brothers James and John); then he moves further away from them, and prays to God on his own. This movement into prayer takes place by steps:

  • To the disciples: “Sit here until [i.e. while] I speak out toward (God) [i.e. pray]” (v. 32)
    • He moves away, taking Peter, James and John with him (v. 33)
      He begins to be struck (with sorrow) and full (of distress) in (his) mind
    • To the three: “My soul is in pain (all) around until [i.e. to the point of] death! Remain here and stay aroused [i.e. keep awake, keep watch]” (v. 34)
      • He goes forward a little to pray by himself (v. 35a)
        He falls upon the ground (overwhelmed by the moment)

The time of prayer (lit. speaking out toward [God]) begins with verse 35b, where Jesus’ prayer is summarized by the narrator in the context of his Passion:

“he spoke out toward (God) [i.e. prayed] that, if it is possible, the hour [w%ra] might go along (away) from him”

This is then repeated in direct address by Jesus, as part of a three-fold cycle (vv. 36-41a), in which Jesus prays for a time, and then returns to the three disciples to find them asleep. Only in the first instance are Jesus’ words—the essence of his prayer—recorded:

“Abba, (my) Father, all things are possible for you [i.e. are in your power]—(please) carry along this cup (away) from me! But (yet let it not be) what I wish, but what you (wish)” (v. 36)

Following this first time of prayer, Jesus’ address to the disciples (to Peter) is also recorded:

“Shim’on, are you sleeping? Did you not have strength to keep aroused [i.e. awake] for one hour? Stay aroused and speak out toward (God) [i.e. pray], that you might not come into (the) testing! The spirit has a forward impulse [i.e. is ready/willing], but the flesh is without strength.” (vv. 37-38)

The Gospel writer provides no further words until Jesus’ third (final) return, when he wakes the disciples and gives the climactic declaration in vv. 41-42. The reference to the “hour” (w%ra) is parallel to that in verse 35b and marks the scene as the beginning of Jesus Passion—which will continue with his arrest, interrogation/trial, mistreatment, and death.

The Gospel of Matthew (26:36-46) follows Mark quite closely here, giving even greater definition to the three-fold cycle of prayer mentioned above. Several details serve to enhance and personalize the scene:

  • “he began to be in pain/sorrow…” [a different verb is used] (v. 37)
  • “remain here and keep aroused [i.e. keep awake/watch] with me” (v. 38)
  • “he fell upon his face” (v. 39)

More notable, Matthew records (the essence of) the first two times of prayer, giving us Jesus’ words:

  • 1st: “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup go along (away) from me! Yet not as I wish (it), but as you (wish it to be)” (v. 39)
  • 2nd: “My Father, if this (cup) is not able to go along (from me) if not (that) [i.e. unless] I drink it, may your will come to be” (v. 42)

This doubling generally fits what Mark describes in 14:39, but creates a more dramatic moment.

Luke’s account (22:39-46) is rather different from the version in Mark/Matthew, though it clearly derives from the same basic tradition. Much depends on the status of verses 43-44, which are textually uncertain (for more on this, cf. the supplemental note). Commentators are divided on whether or not to include them as part of the original text. I am inclined to regard them as secondary—an ancient interpolation perhaps drawn from authentic (historical) tradition, despite the seemingly legendary quality to the details. If the shorter text is original, then Luke certainly presents a much abridged version of the scene, with two main differences:

  • The three-fold cycle of prayer is replaced with a single time of prayer, followed by Jesus’ return to the disciples.
  • There are two exhortations to pray, which frame the scene (cf. below)

The references to Jesus’ sorrow and distress have also been eliminated—that is, unless we accept vv. 43-44 as original, in which case Luke’s version contains a different (and even more striking) depiction of Jesus’ physical and emotional anguish. The overall tone and tenor of Luke’s account would seem to argue against this portrait in vv. 43-44. The shorter text has a clear chiastic structure (another argument in its favor):

  • Exhortation to the disciples to pray, so as not to come into testing/temptation (v. 40)
    —Jesus withdraws from them and falls down to his knees on the ground (v. 41)
    ——His prayer to the Father (v. 42)
    —He stands up from prayer and returns to the disciples (v. 45)
  • Exhortation to the disciples to pray, so as not to come into testing/temptation (v. 46)

The Lukan form of Jesus’ prayer differs slightly from those in Mark/Matthew, combining elements of both versions (cp. above):

“Father, if you will (it), carry along this cup (away) from me! Yet let your will, not mine, come to be” (v. 42)

This idiom of drinking the cup is a way of expressing the acceptance of one’s destiny, as it has been determined by God. For something of the Old Testament background, cf. Psalm 11:6; 75:9; Isa 51:17, 22; Jer 25:15; 49:12; Lam 4:21. Sometimes the image carries the sense of accepting one’s death, as in the expression “cup of death” in the Jerusalem II Targum on Gen 40:23 (cf. Fitzmyer, p. 1442).

John 18:1-11

John’s version of the Garden scene is quite different from the Synoptics, and certainly derives from a separate line of tradition. Yet there are certain elements in common which indicate that both lines rely upon a fundamental set of historical traditions:

  • The general location—a place on the slope of the Mount of Olives, though indicated by different designations. John is unique in describing it as a garden spot across the “winter-flowing Kidron” riverbed (v. 1). There may be an allusion here to 2 Sam 15:23.
  • The arrival of Judas (the betrayal) with a crowd of police/soldiers and attendants of the religious authorities (Chief Priests, etc). The tradition that Judas was familiar with the place (v. 2) may have confirmation from the notice in Lk 22:39.
  • Jesus addresses them (spec. Judas) on their arrival
  • The incident of the disciple who cuts off the ear of the High Priest’s slave with a sword
  • Jesus’ words of rebuke in response (in Matthew & Luke, but not Mark), along with a declaration regarding the necessity of these things (i.e. his arrest) coming to pass
  • Jesus is taken into custody by the crowd

The outline of John’s account is quite simple:

  • Narrative introduction (vv. 1-2)
  • The arrival of Judas with the crowd—their encounter with Jesus (vv. 3-9)
  • Peter’s violent action and Jesus’ response (vv. 10-11)

The central scene is very much unique to John, both in the way Judas is presented, and, even more so, by the depiction of the crowd’s encounter with Jesus (vv. 4-8). The detail in vv. 2-3 reminds the reader of Judas’ former inclusion as one of Jesus’ Twelve closest disciples, and of the betrayal as he arrives with a crowd of attendants (acting as police) from the Chief Priests, along with (Roman) soldiers (a detail found only in John). After verse 5, Judas essentially disappears from the scene; there is nothing corresponding to Mk 14:44-45 par. His role (as betrayer) was to set Jesus’ Passion and death in motion.

By contrast, the encounter in vv. 4-8 between Jesus and the crowd is striking, with nothing like it in the Synoptics (cp. Mk 14:48-49, for the nearest parallel). Jesus has a commanding presence, and speaks with such authority, so as to cause the crowd to shrink back and fall to the ground. His double declaration of e)gw\ ei)mi (“I am [he]”, vv. 6, 8) is certainly to be related to the earlier I AM statements of Jesus in John, and intended here as a declaration of his identity as the eternal Son of God. As such it carries definite Christological weight, and is a far cry from the portrait of Jesus in the Synoptic version of the Garden episode. In this same spirit is the emphasis on Jesus’ control over the disciples—those given to him by God the Father and left in his care (vv. 8-9). His authority protects them from harm in the moment of his arrest.

It is significant that John’s version contains nothing of the Synoptic depiction of Jesus’ distress and anguish; indeed, there is nothing at all corresponding to the Prayer scene (cf. above), except perhaps for the wording of the concluding declaration in v. 11. A closer parallel may be found at an earlier point in the narrative, in 12:27ff:

“Now my soul has been disturbed, and what may I say? ‘Father, save me out of this hour?’ But through this [i.e. for this reason] I came into this hour.” (v. 27)

The Johannine presentation of the disciple’s rash and violent act with the sword is meant to serve as a decided contrast to the calm authority and control with which Jesus acts. John provides several interesting (and unique) details:

  • The disciple, otherwise unidentified in the Synoptics, is Peter
  • The name of the slave—Malchus
  • Agreement with Luke in specifying the right ear

The latter is a natural development of the tradition; the second would appear (on objective grounds) to be authentic historical information. Only the identification of the disciple with Peter is problematic—how and/or why would the other Gospels have left out this key bit of information if it were part of the original tradition? However one judges the historical-critical question, the identification with Peter is important within the Johannine narrative, as it serves as a parallel to Peter’s role (his denial) in the next episode. His rash act with the sword is, in some ways, an extension of his failure in the denial scene. Often in the Gospel tradition, Peter effectively represents all the disciples, and so perhaps we should understand it here.

Even more significant is Jesus’ response to Peter’s act (v. 11). Matthew and Luke also record (very different) responses; John’s version is closest to the declaration by Jesus in Matthew (26:52-54), at least in its initial words:

“Turn your sword away back into its place!…” (Matthew)
“Cast (your) sword (back) into the sheath!…” (John)

In place of the Synoptic reference to the fulfillment of Scripture (Matt 26:54 par), in John’s version, Jesus’ words echo the Synoptic prayer scene:

“…the cup which the Father has given me (to drink), (indeed) shall I not drink it?” (v. 11b)

John’s account also differs slightly in that he separates the actual arrest of Jesus (v. 12) from the main Garden scene, making it part of the next episode—the interrogation of Jesus before the Jewish Council (Sanhedrin)—which will be discussed in the next daily note.

References above marked “Fitzmyer” are to J. A. Fitzmyer, The Gospel According to Luke, Anchor Bible [AB] Vol. 28, 28A (1985).

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