Jesus spent the night in prayer to God. Of course he did. Jesus
was holy, the holiest person who ever lived. Holy people pray. Right?
That risks missing the point. This is another of those contexts
in which, failing to grasp Jesus’ full humanity, we may miss
the rich meaning of this passage. To begin with, it helps to remember,
once again, that “pray” in the New Testament means “ask”.
So the verse can be rephrased as “. . . he spent the night
asking God . . .” Asking what?
Jesus had taken on an incredibly ambitious vocation, one whose outlines
he could only dimly grasp. He set out to call Israel back to its
covenant role of witnessing God’s loving plan for all peoples.
At this point in Luke’s narrative he had just told the home
folks in Nazareth of his mission, quoting from Isaiah, and they
had rejected him. He had started to call disciples and produced
some symbolically important cures. The project was growing, perhaps
faster than he could have expected. It was a little scary.
Jesus, always seeking to do his Father’s will, now wasn’t
sure what God wanted him to do next. So he prayed; he asked God,
“What do you want me to do?” All night.
We find out God’s answer in the next verse, when Jesus came
down from the hills and named twelve of his disciples as “apostles”
– twelve for the twelve tribes of Israel – sending a
strong message that he was setting about the recreation of God’s
Nearly a dozen times in the Gospels the evangelists tell us that
Jesus went off by himself to pray (that is, to ask) – virtually
always at some critical turning point in the ministry. Have we ever
experienced that same kind of uncertainty? It helps, I think, to
know that Jesus did too. We can do no better than to do as he did
– ask God over and over, all night long if needed: “What
do you want me to do?”