Before reflecting on the content of Jesus’ petition, we must still consider what the evangelists tell us about Jesus’ posture during his prayer. Matthew and Mark tell us that he “threw himself on the ground” (Mt 26:39; cf. Mk ), thus assuming a posture of complete submission, as is preserved in the Roman liturgy of Good Friday. Luke, on the other hand, tells us that Jesus prayed on his knees. In the Acts of the Apostles, he speaks of the saints praying on their knees: Stephen during his stoning, Peter at the raising of someone who had died, Paul on his way to martyrdom.
In this way Luke has sketched a brief history of prayer on one’s knees in the early Church. Christians, in kneeling, enter into Jesus’ prayer on the
Mount of Olives. When menaced by the power of evil, as they kneel, they are upright before the world, while as sons and daughters, they kneel before the Father. Before God’s glory we Christians kneel and acknowledge his divinity; by this posture we also express our confidence that he will prevail.
Jesus struggles with the Father. He struggles with himself. And he struggles for us. He experiences anguish before the power of death. First and foremost this is simply the dread natural to every living creature in the face of death. In Jesus, however, something more is at work. His gaze peers deeper, into the nights of evil. He sees the filthy flood of all the lies and all the disgrace which he will encounter in that chalice from which he must drink. His is the dread of one who is completely pure and holy as he sees the entire flood of this world’s evil bursting upon him. He also sees me, and he prays for me. This moment of Jesus’ mortal anguish is thus an essential part of the process of redemption. Consequently, the Letter to the Hebrews describes the struggle of Jesus on the
Mount of Olives as a priestly event. In this prayer of Jesus, pervaded by mortal anguish, the Lord performs the office of a priest: he takes upon himself the sins of humanity, of us all, and he brings us before the Father.
Homily, Holy Thursday, 2012
Reflection – So the Pope is sort of ‘on the way’ in this part of the homily to his primary point, which I will get to tomorrow. Jesus, as he has developed, has entered the darkness of our human condition and remained there in his communion with the Father. He has brought into the human reality of isolation, abandonment, and fear the loving unity of the Father and the Son, and made these dark human realities permanently open to the possibility of this unity and love.
Here, the Pope recognizes the fact that this was extraordinarily hard for Jesus. He was not play acting; He was not really just fine, and putting on some kind of show for his disciples. No. In his humanity, he truly experienced the horror and dread of what He was about to endure. In his humanity, he truly struggled, and this is such a consolation for us. This is really important.
We all struggle. When we are faced with the Father’s will and the strange unfolding of our lives and their circumstances, we struggle. When the Church’s teachings ask of us a difficult obedience or fidelity to the moral law entails suffering and sacrifice, we struggle. When painful losses and grievous failures come to us, we struggle. We all would like to be conquering heroes confidently striding from strength to strength. But sometimes we roll on the ground and sweat blood, and ask our Father in heaven if please, just this once, the cup could be taken away from us.
And Jesus is here, too. With us, for us, loving us. And this is tremendously consoling, isn’t it? It consoles me, anyhow. He really has penetrated into the real darkness of our human night, remaining without sin in it, but nonetheless, He is there. And so even at the worst of the struggle, in the pit of despond, the way is open to loving union with God, and this is where the Pope will take us tomorrow.