WORD STUDY: HIS CUP – (Aramaic) כסא
Matthew 26:39: “And he went a little further, and fell on his face, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt.”
For me, one of the great mysteries of this story when Jesus was praying in the garden was when He was asking the Father to let this cup would pass from Him. I have always been troubled by this passage of Scripture. Just what is this cup? Was it the coming crucifixion that He could not face? I had been taught, even as a child, that this was the greatest lesson in obedience. Here Jesus is facing torture and death and is struggling against the will of his Father, not wanting to give up his life, but in the end he submits and voluntarily gives up to the torture and death that awaits him saying: “Not my will but thine be done.”
The other day in my disability bus I drove by the Olive –Harvey City College in Chicago. I asked my passenger who Olive –Harvey was. I was told that this college is really two colleges that merged and both were named after two Vietnam soldiers who won the Medal of Honor. Both died in action. Benton Harvey, Jr. died when he charged a machine gun position to allow his comrades to carry two wounded soldiers into a helicopter and PFC Milton Lee Olive died when he threw himself on a grenade to save his comrades. Both knew exactly what they were doing and they did not hesitate to save the lives of their comrades knowing full well it would not only cost them their own lives but they might suffer extreme pain or torment as a result.
If human beings are capable of such heroic acts, then how much more is the God who created them capable of? Which begs the question, if God is perfect in love and loves us with this perfect love, why did He hesitate to go to the cross as this passage suggests. Did He really have this time of indecision, worried about His own gizzard? Then finally, after a long struggle He gives up and says: “Alright, already, Father you win, I’ll go, I’ll go if you order me.” Ok, maybe you read this differently, maybe this passage does not trouble you but it does me. I spent 45 years of my life studying the Bible in Greek, Hebrew and Aramaic for a minimum of three to four hours a day so I could come to some peace over passages such as this one. So you will have to forgive me if I happen to read my own bias into this passage.
Jesus spoke an Old Galilean form of Aramaic (not Greek) which practically all Biblical scholars agree. When we read this story from the Aramaic version of the Bible, the Peshittta we come up with a little different rendering. First and foremost is the use of the word that is used for cup in Aramaic which is the word kasa. It does mean cup but its earlier Semitic root is the word used for a pelican or stork. Pelicans and storks were noted for their gentle loving care of their young. In fact they would care for young that was not their own. If one their chicks died the legend was that the mother would resurrect her young chick by feeding it with her own blood. Hence, Cup became a euphemism in the Aramaic for deep, heartfelt caring. That long pouch on the pelican looks like a cup hence the future rendering of cup. This is the same word Jesus used at the last supper when He said that this cup (not this wine) is my blood. In other words this nurturing love is my blood. The Semitic mindset of the disciples would have allowed them to see a little play on words in this context and pick up on this euphemism. Stop and think about it next time you take communion and the leader says: “This is my cup.” Keep in mind he is not talking about the wine but of God’s lovingkindness and that it would be his blood that would resurrect us and restore us to a rightful position with Him.
In the garden Jesus is praying that this kasa (cup, nurturing love) would pass from Him. In Greek the word pass is parelthato which means to avert, avoid, or pass over. But if this word for pass was spoken in Aramaic and later translated into Greek, it is possible the Aramaic might be closer to what Jesus said which was avar. Now avar in Aramaic is the same word in Hebrew which has a wide range of meanings. The word itself is the picture of a river overflowing onto its banks. You could say that it is passing over, but more correctly it would be overwhelming. Yes, the human part of Jesus was not looking forward to the coming torture and pain but Jesus was not praying to get out of this situation but that this cup, or this nurturing, sacrificial love would overwhelm his physical body so it would not dread the coming pain.
Note in verse 37 it says he became sorrowful. That word sorrowful in the Aramaic is kamar which means to burn or kindle and is used for a burning love or compassion. As Jesus was about to make the sacrifice of His own life his entire being was filled with a burning love and compassion for mankind such that he says: “If it is possible let this cup or this nurturing love avar or overwhelm me.” The words if possible in Aramaic is shekev which literally means if this happens. In other words Jesus is saying that if this is to happen tonight, then let this burning love, this nurturing love for mankind just overwhelm me so that all I will think about is this burning love that I have. Just as Olive and Harvey thought only of their love for their buddies when they faced their final moments, it was that love that helped them to endure the agony of those moments. It was also that sacrificial love that Jesus had for each one us that helped Him endure such horrendous pain and torture.
I don’t believe Jesus sweat drops of blood over the fear of his impending torture and death, nor do I believe that the pressure of taking on our sins caused Him to sweat drops of blood, what I do believe is that He saw and knew at that moment the tremendous agony, pain and suffering of mankind, He was so filled with love for each one of us and now that He had a human body and could understand what pain and torment was he could not endure the knowledge of what our pain and suffering was like. As God he could not understand human suffering until he took on human flesh. Just like a mother prays that the suffering and pain of her child could somehow be removed from that child and placed upon her so that she would suffer rather than her child, so too our Heavenly Parent, Jesus, at that moment understood our suffering and pain and knew He could take it on. It was that knowledge and understanding of what sin had done to us and His empathy for our suffering that cause Him to suffer drops of blood. Being sinless Jesus could not understand the torment of sin. In that moment by taking on the sin of the world Jesus understood what the torment of guilt was really like. That was filled his kasa cup or nurturing love and it was this kasa cup or nurturing love that so avar overwhelmed Him.