Matthew’s passion narrative begins with the plot of Judas Iscariot to betray Jesus and continues through the well-known scenes: celebration of the Passover meal; the promises by Peter and all the disciples that they would never lose faith in Jesus; the agony in the garden called Gethsemane; the arrest of Jesus; the abandonment of Jesus by all his disciples; the trial; Peter’s denial of Jesus; the suicide of Judas; Pilate’s release of Barabbas and condemnation of Jesus to death by crucifixion; the torture and mockery by the Roman soldiers; the crucifixion accompanied by dramatic signs of a new age; the burial of Jesus.
Jesus began his mission with his baptism at the Jordan. The Spirit of God came upon him, and a voice came from heaven, saying, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Mt 3:13-17). Immediately following this event, Matthew tells us that from that moment until the end Jesus would undergo temptations to reject his truth of being beloved Son, pleasing to God. The passion narrative presents the last and most severe trial of Jesus’ fidelity. Every earthly reason is progressively removed for trusting in God’s love, even to experiencing a horrible and shameful death on a cross.
Matthew in his passion narrative gives us some insight into the mystery of how the Spirit enabled Jesus to pray through his experience of suffering and dying. It is in this pattern that the Spirit of Jesus now enables us to pray through the trials of our own life and death.
Jesus begins his passion with the observance of the Passover meal with his disciples. The structure of this sacred ritual meal consists of readings, hymns and psalms of the biblical tradition he knew so well. Through these prophecies and prayers of the Hebrew scriptures, he recognized and accepted his sacrificial role in the divine plan to create a new covenant with all humanity. Matthew mentions that after Jesus sang a final hymn with his disciples, they went out to the Mount of Olives.
With three of his disciples Jesus went to a place called Gethsemane, where he began to feel sorrow and distress. Here again, now foreseeing his imminent suffering and death, Jesus prays, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet, not as I will, but as you will” (Mt 26:39).
Finally, Jesus dying upon a cross, cries out in prayer the heart-rending plea of the twenty-second psalm: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me” (Mt 27:46)? In his dark night of the soul, emptied now of every human evidence of God’s loving presence, Jesus is sustained in hope through the pure light of faith. Trusting that even in this fearful moment of dying he is beloved Son, Jesus freely gives up his life into God’s hands (Mt 27:50).
Campion P. Gavaler, O.S.B.