The Hour of Darkness

Luke 22:39-65

LukeJesus went out as usual to the Mount of Olives, and his disciples followed him. On reaching the place, he said to them, "Pray that you will not fall into temptation." He withdrew about a stone's throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed, "Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done." An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him. And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.

When he rose from prayer and went back to the disciples, he found them asleep, exhausted from sorrow. "Why are you sleeping?" he asked them. "Get up and pray so that you will not fall into temptation."

While he was still speaking a crowd came up, and the man who was called Judas, one of the Twelve, was leading them. He approached Jesus to kiss him, but Jesus asked him, "Judas, are you betraying the Son of Man with a kiss?" When Jesus' followers saw what was going to happen, they said, "Lord, should we strike with our swords?" And one of them struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his right ear. But Jesus answered, "No more of this!" And he touched the man's ear and healed him.

Then Jesus said to the chief priests, the officers of the temple guard, and the elders, who had come for him, "Am I leading a rebellion, that you have come with swords and clubs? Every day I was with you in the temple courts, and you did not lay a hand on me. But this is your hour--when darkness reigns." Then seizing him, they led him away and took him into the house of the high priest.

Peter followed at a distance. But when they had kindled a fire in the middle of the courtyard and had sat down together, Peter sat down with them. A servant girl saw him seated there in the firelight. She looked closely at him and said, "This man was with him." But he denied it. "Woman, I don't know him," he said. A little later someone else saw him and said, "You also are one of them." "Man, I am not!" Peter replied. About an hour later another asserted, "Certainly this fellow was with him, for he is a Galilean." Peter replied, "Man, I don't know what you're talking about!"

Just as he was speaking, the rooster crowed. The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word the Lord had spoken to him: "Before the rooster crows today, you will disown me three times." And he went outside and wept bitterly.

The men who were guarding Jesus began mocking and beating him. They blindfolded him and demanded, "Prophesy! Who hit you?" And they said many other insulting things to him.
Commentary by Donald Senior, C.P.

The sense of crisis and danger that Luke injects into the passion story is apparent here in the haunting scenes of Jesus' anguished prayer, his nighttime arrest and interrogation.

After the Passover feast, Jesus and his disciples go "to the Mount of Olives" (22:39). Luke situates this dramatic prayer of Jesus on that mountain where Judaism expected the end of the world to take place. And Luke alone describes Jesus' prayer as an "agony," one that causes him to perspire so that his sweat becomes as drops of blood. Greek literature used the term agonia to describe the extreme exertion of an athlete in training. So intense and anguished is Jesus' prayer as he prepares to encounter death that an "angel from heaven" comes to Jesus to strengthen him.

Jesus asks his disciples to join him in prayer that they, too, "would not undergo the test" (22:40). The "test" here means that final struggle between good and evil that Judaism expected at the end of the world, a "test" experienced whenever a person of faith encounters the aggressive power of death and evil in the world. Jesus' own prayer has that same fierce intensity: he is dedicated to doing his Father's will but he also prays for deliverance from the power of death. The very act of prayer, of pouring out one's anguish and fear before God, brings strength. So Jesus stands up and goes to find his disciples sleeping--"from grief" the evangelist notes, softening the impact of yet another sign of their weakness. Once again Jesus warns them of the approaching "test"; the community may not be ready for the fierce power of death but Jesus, the Son of God, is.

At that moment Judas brings a crowd to arrest Jesus. In Luke's account, his treacherous kiss never reaches Jesus because the Servant-Master already knows its purpose: "Judas, are you betraying the Son of Man with a kiss?" (22:48). The disciples, dazed by this onslaught and still not comprehending Jesus' teaching, reach for their weapons: "Lord, shall we strike with a sword?" (22:48). It is a question that Christians have often asked when confronted with evil. Without waiting for a reply, one disciple (unlike John, Luke does not identify him as Peter) slashes off the ear of the High Priest's servant. Characteristic of this gospel, Jesus' response to the issue of violent reprisal is to reach out and heal the wounded man. The Jesus who taught his disciples to "love your enemy" and not to return evil for evil (6:27-36) lives by his own words.

"This is your hour," Jesus tells the armed crowd, "the time for the power of darkness." (22:53). But the reader knows that beyond this nighttime, the resurrection day will come.

The scene shifts. Those arresting Jesus bring him to the house of the high priest (22:54-65). Here he will be interrogated and beaten throughout the night (22:63-65). These scenes of a furtive and violent arrest, of nighttime torture and interrogation have been repeated over and over in the history of Christian martyrdom, including our day.

Peter had followed his Master to the courtyard of the High Priest's house and mingled with the crowd around a fire built to cheat the cold night air (22:54-62). But Peter's attempt to merge with the crowd fails; a maid recognizes him in the light of the fire: "This man too was with him." Fear rising in his throat, Peter vigorously denies that he even knows Jesus. But a little later the danger comes again as another person recognizes him, then "an hour later," another who catches Peter's Galilean accent. Each time Peter--the leader of the twelve--denies that he ever heard of Jesus.

The first readers of this gospel, for whom Peter was still a fresh memory and the ancestor of their faith, must have found this scene painful. Luke adds a touch of exquisite drama and deep compassion. Unlike the other passion stories, the evangelist has staged this scene so that Peter and Jesus are within sight of each other: the warming fire and the knot of soldiers torturing Jesus are in the same courtyard. As the cock crows--the very signal that Jesus had foretold to Peter (22:34)--Jesus turns and looks at his disciple. That gaze penetrates Peter's heart; he remembers Jesus' words, words warning of failure but also promising forgiveness, and leaves the courtyard weeping in remorse.

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