Matthew Chapter 26:36-45
Here is the final update. Once again, apologies for the confusion!
We have left the Last Supper and come into the Garden of Gethsemane. My suspicion is that there won’t be a lot of long theological discussions, but I’ve been wrong about stuff like that before.
36 Τότε ἔρχεται μετ’ αὐτῶν ὁ Ἰησοῦς εἰς χωρίον λεγόμενον Γεθσημανί, καὶ λέγει τοῖς μαθηταῖς, Καθίσατε αὐτοῦ ἕως [οὗ] ἀπελθὼν ἐκεῖ προσεύξωμαι.
37 καὶ παραλαβὼν τὸν Πέτρον καὶ τοὺς δύο υἱοὺς Ζεβεδαίου ἤρξατο λυπεῖσθαι καὶ ἀδημονεῖν.
38τότε λέγει αὐτοῖς, Περίλυπός ἐστιν ἡ ψυχή μου ἕως θανάτου: μείνατε ὧδε καὶ γρηγορεῖτε μετ’ ἐμοῦ.
Then they came with Jesus to the Garden called Gethsemane, and he said to his disciples, “Sit yourself while I going away over there will pray”. (37) And taking Peter and the two sons of Zebedee he began to be anguished and grieved. (38) Then he sad to the, “Surrounded is my soul with grief unto death. Remain here and keep watch with me”.
Of course, this is setting the mood of the scene; Jesus knows what is coming, and he is deeply distraught by its occurrence. For this particular moment, I believe the most significant aspect of these three verses are the way, once again, Jesus is made to manage the situation so that only the three main disciples are with him. The others, now eight in number with the exit of Judas, are conveniently removed from the scene and the narrative. This has happened a number of times–the Transfiguration being the most salient–and it seems to be a plot device. It’s a way of maintaining the existence of Twelve, without ever actually involving them, or even including them, in any of the action. And naturally they weren’t involved in any of the action: they didn’t exist at the time.
I’m struck that Jesus asks the Three to “keep watch”; is this a reference back to the previous chapter, in which Jesus tells parables about being watchful? As such, this would be a true literary device.
36 Tunc venit Iesus cum illis in praedium, quod dicitur Gethsemani. Et dicit discipulis: “ Sedete hic, donec vadam illuc et orem ”.
37 Et assumpto Petro et duobus filiis Zebedaei, coepit contristari et maestus esse.
38 Tunc ait illis: “Tristis est anima mea usque ad mortem; sustinete hic et vigilate mecum”.
39 καὶ προελθὼν μικρὸν ἔπεσεν ἐπὶ πρόσωπον αὐτοῦ προσευχόμενος καὶ λέγων, Πάτερ μου, εἰ δυνατόν ἐστιν, παρελθάτω ἀπ’ ἐμοῦ τὸ ποτήριον τοῦτο: πλὴν οὐχ ὡς ἐγὼ θέλω ἀλλ’ ὡς σύ.
40 καὶ ἔρχεται πρὸς τοὺς μαθητὰς καὶ εὑρίσκει αὐτοὺς καθεύδοντας, καὶ λέγει τῷ Πέτρῳ, Οὕτως οὐκ ἰσχύσατε μίαν ὥραν γρηγορῆσαι μετ’ ἐμοῦ;
41 γρηγορεῖτε καὶ προσεύχεσθε, ἵνα μὴ εἰσέλθητε εἰς πειρασμόν: τὸ μὲν πνεῦμα πρόθυμον ἡ δὲ σὰρξ ἀσθενής.
And going off a little way, he fell on his face, praying and saying, “My father, if it is possible, take away from me this cup. But be (ful)filled not as I wish, but as you”. (40) And he came to the disciples ad found them sleeping, and he said to Peter, “In this way you are not strong (enough) a single hour to be watchful with me? (41) Be watchful and pray so that you may not come into the test. While the spirit is eager, the flesh OTOH is weak.”
The spirit is eager, but the flesh…not so much. This was also in Mark, and it was said pretty much in these words. This is, of course, a very insightful observation: eagerness to succeed often–much too often–outstrips the body’s ability to perform. As such, it’s more or less a truism. Back when we read this in Mark, I may have alluded to the latent dualism in this expression: the spirit is superior to corrupt, corruptible matter, and this may be true. Mark has some interesting tendencies in that direction. But now I can see how this reinforces one aspect of the Parable of the Sower. Think about the seed that falls in shallow soil; it springs up, but lacking roots, it withers and dies. Such is what we have here.
Then we have Jesus’ prayer. Now that the moment has come for the trial, he really is reluctant to face the agony this will entail. And here we have a great juxtaposition of Jesus nature, or possibly his two natures. On one hand, we have the foreknowledge of what is going to happen. This is not a human trait, but it’s not necessarily a divine trait; that is, it’s not something one must be divine to have. Paul talks about those who have the gift of prophecy, and like it’s not that unusual nor at the apex of divine gifts; prophets may be in contact with the divine, but they can be prophets and remain fully human. So what may seem to be an expression of Jesus’ divinity may not have been so perceived by ancient audiences. With that, we have Jesus’ trepidation–fear–of the coming suffering. This is fully human. Humans experience a sense of dread when going to the dentist, so why shouldn’t–why wouldn’t–Jesus feel this sense, increased by several orders of magnitude? This is so very human, so much a literary device to show Jesus as human that, perhaps, it obscures something else.
There is a school of thought that wants to believe in the existence of a Passion Narrative prior to Mark. For the most part, I’m skeptical, largely because the whole idea of excusing the Romans does not fit into the 50s, or even 60s. To read Josephus is to see this exoneration performed by a master. The whitewash of Rome’s role in the execution of Jesus is just so much of a piece with the way Josephus treats Rome that it’s extremely difficult not to see the same impetus at work. In addition, the throwing of guilt onto the Jews also fits in with a period when most converts were no longer Jewish, but pagan. Why blame the pagans if they are your target audience? So the date of that tipping point, as I’ve been calling it, should provide clues about the time of composition of the Passion Story as we have it. On this point, the conventional wisdom actually works in my favour. By tradition, Matthew has been considered Jewish. As such, the date of that tipping point could be pushed into the 80s, well after the destruction of Jerusalem. This date, plus the need to absolve Rome easily argues against the Passion Narrative predating Mark.
But what if different parts of the Passion Narrative were composed at different times? Perhaps a Passion Narrative did predate Mark, but Mark then reworked it to put the blame on the Jews rather than the Romans. And why not? The Jews of that era were dead, so who would be able to gainsay Mark, especially if he were writing primarily for pagans at that point? In this case, it would be very easy to see this very human Jesus as part of Mark’s narrative. Maybe Mark found it; maybe he created it, but the Jesus portrayed here fits very nicely with the very human Jesus in much of Mark, the one who was sarcastic, got angry, and had brothers. We’ll see a bit of this side of Jesus shortly.
42 πάλιν ἐκ δευτέρου ἀπελθὼν προσηύξατο λέγων, Πάτερ μου, εἰ οὐ δύναται τοῦτο παρελθεῖν ἐὰν μὴ αὐτὸ πίω, γενηθήτω τὸ θέλημά σου.
43 καὶ ἐλθὼν πάλιν εὗρεν αὐτοὺς καθεύδοντας, ἦσαν γὰρ αὐτῶν οἱ ὀφθαλμοὶ βεβαρημένοι.
44 καὶ ἀφεὶς αὐτοὺς πάλιν ἀπελθὼν προσηύξατο ἐκ τρίτου τὸν αὐτὸν λόγον εἰπὼν πάλιν.
45 τότε ἔρχεται πρὸς τοὺς μαθητὰς καὶ λέγει αὐτοῖς, Καθεύδετε [τὸ] λοιπὸν καὶ ἀναπαύεσθε; ἰδοὺ ἤγγικεν ἡ ὥρα καὶ ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου παραδίδοται εἰς χεῖρας ἁμαρτωλῶν.
Again a second time going away he prayed, saying, “My Father, if it is not possible that this go away that I need not drink this, let your will be done”. (43) And coming again he found them sleeping, for their eyes were weighted. (44) And he left from them, going away he prayed for the third time the same speech again. (45) Then he came to his disciples and said to them, “Sleep, the remaining (time) and rest. Look, the hour approaches and the son of man is given over into the hands of sinners.”
One thing that did not get mentioned in the first iteration of Jesus praying is the form, “my father”. This replaces the use of the Aramaic “Abba” that we found in Mark. I’d like to say this means that Matthew was a pagan, but it doesn’t. It probably means he was in a Greek-speaking milieu, but so were a lot of Jews, like Philo of Alexandria. I’m reasonably certain that we have not seen this formulation before, “my father”. The purpose here, I believe, is to attempt to capture the sense of Mark’s use of “abba”, to put across the intimacy of the address. I am tempted to say that the idea of God as father is actually pagan in derivation; in Jewish custom YHWH was addressed as “lord”, whereas Zeus was the Sky-Father, or the All-Father. But, if someone with half a clue contradicts that, I won’t argue. It’s an impression rather than something based on real knowledge.
The only other thing that strikes me here is the idea that the son of man is given over to sinners. That’s rather an odd way of putting it; true, but still rather odd. To “wicked men”, or to “evildoers” or something such would be what I would expect, but that’s probably due to the much more secular notion of society that we have in this 21st century. Evil and wickedness (allowing that the term is a bit archaic) exist, and are traits we ascribe to people. “Sinners”…not so much, unless the idea is to be a bit facetious. That, however, is more of a comment on us than on Matthew. The formulation was likely a commonplace for him.
Just to be clear, the idea of “sin” is not a terribly Greek idea, but it has precedents in Greek usage. To start with, this is not a common word in Greek, but it does show up in both Plato and Aristotle, so it does exist, and it exists as sin at a fairly high level. But there is no doubt that it’s used more in the NT than in the entire Classical/Hellenistic Greek corpus. The transgression in Greek thought was lack of showing proper respect or reverence, “dissing” in modern parlance.
39 Et progressus pusillum, procidit in faciem suam orans et dicens: “ Pater mi, si possibile est, transeat a me calix iste; verumtamen non sicut ego volo, sed sicut tu ”.
40 Et venit ad discipulos et invenit eos dormientes; et dicit Petro: “ Sic non potuistis una hora vigilare mecum?
41 Vigilate et orate, ut non intretis in tentationem; spiritus quidem promptus est, caro autem infirma ”.
42 Iterum secundo abiit et oravit dicens: “ Pater mi, si non potest hoc transire, nisi bibam illud, fiat voluntas tua ”.
43 Et venit iterum et invenit eos dormientes: erant enim oculi eorum gravati.
44 Et relictis illis, iterum abiit et oravit tertio, eundem sermonem iterum dicens.
45 Tunc venit ad discipulos et dicit illis: “Dormite iam et requiescite; ecce appropinquavit hora, et Filius hominis traditur in manus peccatorum”.
Posted on September 18, 2016, in Chapter 26, gospel commentary, gospels, Matthew's Gospel and tagged Bible, Bible commentary, Bible scholarship, biblical scholarship, commenting, gospel commentary, gospels, Historical Jesus, mark's gospel, Matthew's gospel, New Testament, New Testament Greek, NT Greek, NT Translation, passion story, religion, St Mark, St Matthew, St Paul, theology. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.