Thoughts on How Christ Prayed Under Duress

Once when Jesus was praying in solitude…

Is it wrong for me to wonder to myself this question: What would Jesus pray? What would God, as the Son of Man, pray to God the Father?  I read a Psalm of David today that makes me believe a) perhaps this is how Our Lord prayed for strength while he was undergoing his trial, and b) David “saw” this and again prophesied events that have been fulfilled.

Now, I’m the first to acknowledge that I am not a Biblical scholar. I willingly give all rights to interpretation of scriptures to the Church. If I am wrong here, I am more than willing to be corrected.

But read the following psalm not as if you are in the character of David fleeing from King Saul, for example, but as Our Lord dealing with the Scribes and Pharisees of his time, and of his treatment at the hands of the Romans. Read it in the character of Our Lord, standing trial before Pontius Pilate. As Our Lord being scourged and spat upon, lampooned and pilloried, and eventually unjustly crucified.

Do you see the human side of our Lord praying for courage? For assurance of deliverance? For justice and for the joy of His followers? Taste and see.

Psalm 35 

Judge, O Lord, them that wrong me:
overthrow them that fight against me.
Take hold of arms and shield: and rise up to help me.
Bring out the sword, and shut up the way against them that persecute me:
say to my soul: I am your salvation.

Let them be confounded and ashamed
that seek after my soul.
Let them be turned back and be confounded
that devise evil against me.
Let them become as dust before the wind:
and let the angel of the Lord straiten them.
Let their way become dark and slippery;
and let the angel of the Lord pursue them.

For without cause they have hidden
their net for me unto destruction:
without cause they have upbraided my soul.
Let the snare which he knows not come upon him:
and let the net which he has hidden catch him:
and into that very snare let them fall.

But my soul shall rejoice in the Lord;
and shall be delighted in his salvation.
All my bones shall say:
Lord, who is like to you?
Who delivers the poor from the hand
of them that are stronger than he;
the needy and the poor
from them that strip him.

Unjust witnesses rising up
have asked me things I knew not.
They repaid me evil for good:
to the depriving me of my soul.

But as for me, when they were troublesome to me,
I was clothed with haircloth.
I humbled my soul with fasting;
and my prayer shall be turned into my bosom.
As a neighbor and as an own brother,
so did I please: as one mourning and sorrowful
so was I humbled.

But they rejoiced against me, and came together:
scourges were gathered together upon me, and I knew not.
They were separated, and repented not: they tempted me,
they scoffed at me with scorn:
they gnashed upon me with their teeth.

Lord, when will you look upon me?
Rescue my soul from their malice:
my only one from the lions.
I will give thanks to you in a great church;
I will praise you in a strong people.

Let not them that are my enemies wrongfully rejoice over me:
who have hated me without cause,
and wink with the eyes.
For they spoke indeed peaceably to me;
and speaking in the anger of the earth
they devised guile.
And they opened their mouth wide against me;
they said: Well done, well done, our eyes have seen it.

You have seen, O Lord, be not silent:
O Lord, depart not from me.
Arise, and be attentive to my judgment:
to my cause, my God, and my Lord.

Judge me, O Lord my God according to your justice,
and let them not rejoice over me.
Let them not say in their hearts:
It is well, it is well, to our mind:
neither let them say:
We have swallowed him up.
Let them blush: and be ashamed together,
who rejoice at my evils.
Let them be clothed with confusion and shame,
who speak great things against me.

Let them rejoice and be glad,
who are well pleased with my justice,
and let them say always:
The Lord be magnified,
who delights in the peace of his servant.

And my tongue shall meditate your justice,
your praise all the day long.

To make sure I wasn’t flying blind on this idea that Christ may have prayed these words, I checked out St. Augustine’s Commentary on the Psalms (Vol II), which I found in my local public library. In the first section of his commentary for this particular psalm, St. Augustine writes,

In short, what we are now singing is spoken by His Spirit through His prophet, and in these words we recognize both ourselves and Him. We are doing Him no wrong in saying “ourselves and Him,” since from the height of heaven he cried out” “Why persecutest thou me?,” whereas nobody was touching Him, and it was we who were suffering affliction on earth.

Let us listen, then, to His voice, now that of the Body and now that of the Head. This is a Psalm calling upon God against our enemies in tribulations of this world. Beyond question the speaker is Christ Himself, afflicted sometimes as Head, at other times in His Body. It is nevertheless through afflictions that He bestows upon all His members life everlasting, the promise of which has made Him an object of desire.

Keep in mind Our Lord’s Agony in the Garden. He is truly, fully, human. As proof of this, recall how he was sorely troubled at the prospect of facing bodily death. Yet his faith in God the Father was such that he prays “not my will but thy will be done.”

I pray that I have a faith as strong as this.

Note: The translation of this psalm is from the Douay-Rheims. Also, at New Advent, see the abridged version of  St. Augustine’s two discourses on this Psalm as well.

  • http://www.hermitofbardstown.com Stephen Taylor

    Lovely, Frank. I pray the Psalms every day of my life and this is one of my favorites. Oh, and Psalm 35 is believed to have come from David himself. :-)

    It is easy to lose sight of the fact that Jesus as a Jew did pray the Psalms, and when he went to Jerusalem, whether once according to the synoptics, or several times according to John, on each occasion we have reason to believe he recited Ps. 122, “I rejoiced when they said to me, let us go to God’s house,” the moment he saw the temple.

  • http://breadhere.wordpress.com/ Fran Rossi Szpylczyn

    Jesus was fully human at the time of his earthly ministry, his glory not yet fully realized until his resurrection. So I imagine that he, as Stephen points out, would have prayed this as any 1st century Palestinian Jew would have. I think that this is important and I am glad for the reminder that I find here on the blog. It was in his very humanity that Jesus came to be with us, a brother to us. This is so important and so remarkable that I have no further words for this thought! This thought – this reality! Amen.


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