Oblate Program at Belmont Abbey, NC

His incarnation was absolutely real

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Jesus-Eucharist-webThe evening before our Lord gave himself up to death he shared his own body with his Apostles and offered them his blood, with the command that they were to do what he had done in order to keep the memory of his Passion alive. Then a strange thing happened. Earlier Jesus had charged his disciples not to fear death. Do not be afraid of those who have power to kill ­your body, he had said. But now he himself showed fear, and ­begged to be spared the cup of suffering. Father, he prayed if it be possible, let this cup pass me by. How are we to explain this?

The answer is that our Lord’s petition was wrung from the human weakness he had made his own. There was no pretence about his incarnation; it was absolutely real. And since the donning of our poor humanity had made him puny and defenceless, it was only natural that he should experience fear and alarm. Eating to alleviate hunger, showing weariness after exertion, and revealing human weakness by the need for sleep were all the effects of his taking our flesh and clothing himself with our infirmity. Consequently when the moment of death drew near, he necessarily experienced the ultimate frailty of our human condition; he was gripped by a dreadful horror of ­dying.

It was then that Jesus said to his disciples: Stay awake and pray that you may be spared the test. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak. And in answer to our question he might well say: ‘When you are afraid, it is not your spirit that trembles but your human ­weakness. Remember then that I myself tasted the fear of death in my desire to convince you that I truly shared your flesh and blood.’

A further answer to our question is that Jesus wished to teach his disciples how to commit themselves to God both in life and in death. His own divine knowledge made him supremely wise, yet he prayed for what his Father judged to be expedient. How much more ought we ignorant men to surrender our wills to God’s omniscience!

We may also tell ourselves that we too were in our Lord’s mind as he prayed. In time of temptation our minds become confused and our imagination runs riot. By persevering in prayer Jesus was showing us how much we ourselves need to pray if we are to escape the wiles and snares of the devil. It is only by constant prayer that we gain control of our distracted thoughts.

Finally, there is our Lord’s desire to strengthen all who are afraid of death. By letting them see that he himself had expe­rienced fear he would show them that fear does not necessarily lead to sin, provided one continues to resist it. This is the force of our Lord’s concluding prayer: Not my will, Father, but yours be done. He is saying: ‘Yes, Father, I am ready to die in order to bring life to many.’

St Ephrem of Syria,
Diatessaron 20.3-4, 6-7 (CSCO 145:201-204);
Word in Season II, 2nd ed.

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