And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” – Matthew 26:39 ESV
Of all the moments leading up to Jesus’ crucifixion, the hardest one for me to wrap my head around is that one where Jesus is praying in the Garden of Gethsemane. The Savior of the World, the Son of God, the Messiah is agonizing, overwhelmed by dread and maybe even fear, pleading with His Father to consider another way. At least that’s how I’ve always read that as Matthew records it. But today, I came across something by Chaim Bentorah, causing me to wonder if there might not have been a deeper meaning to Jesus prayer – what if He was asking to be overwhelmed?
When Jesus prayed this prayer, He most likely prayed in His native tongue, Hebrew or Aramaic, two different but similar languages. The Aramaic word for “cup” is the word “kasa.” The Hebrew word for “cup” is the word “kavas.” Both words have the same double meaning – “stork or pelican.” In ancient Hebrew culture a stork and a pelican were considered to be the same bird. This bird was known for its intentional tender loving care for its young. This may be where the picture of the stork delivering babies comes from. The ancients believed that when a stork couldn’t provide food for her young in times of famine or scarcity, she would peck at her own body, drawing her own blood whereby she would feed them. They were even known to care for chick’s that weren’t their own. So what does a stork have to do with Jesus prayer? What if Jesus wasn’t asking for an actual cup to be taken from Him but that this stork-like tender nurturing love could pass from Him?
The original Greek word for “pass” in Matthew’s Gospel is the word “parelthato,” meaning “to avoid, to pass over.” The Aramaic word for “pass” is the word “avar,” which, like its Hebrew counterpart, conveys the idea of a river overflowing its banks. So perhaps Jesus isn’t asking that this cup pass FROM but rather pass OVER, or even better overwhelm Him. In other words, Jesus might very well have prayed “Father, let this cup [this nurturing, sacrificial love] pass [overwhelm] me.”
Earlier, Matthew says in verse 37 that Jesus became “sorrowful.” But the Aramaic word for “sorrowful” is the word “kamar” which means “to burn or kindle.” It speaks of a burning passion. So perhaps what Matthew may be telling us is that Jesus’ entire being was filled with a burning love and compassion for humanity, that caused Him to pray “Father, if it’s possible, let this cup, this nurturing self sacrificing love overwhelm me.”
What if . . . what if Jesus was more overwhelmed with love for humankind than He was overwhelmed by the dread of the cross that awaited Him? It doesn’t make the hours that followed with his arrest, his scourging, his crucifixion any less painful to consider. But it does magnify the reality of just how much He loved us, all of us.
As I consider this overwhelming love that He had for humanity today, I pray. I pray for my friends who have yet to know this kind of love. I pray for . . . Glen, for Chad, for Brandon, for Clay, for Jim, for Paul, and for so many others to know that THIS kind of overwhelming love that Jesus has for them. A kind of love that would cause Him to willingly shed His own life’s blood that they,
that I might know what it means to truly live and to be truly loved.
Thank you for that overwhelming kind of love. May it never be lost on us.