Mark 14: 32 – 42 Gethsemane
They went to a place called Gethsemane, and Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Sit here while I pray.’ He took Peter, James and John along with him, and he began to be deeply distressed and troubled. ‘My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,’ he said to them. ‘Stay here and keep watch.’
Going a little farther, he fell to the ground and prayed that if possible the hour might pass from him. ‘Abba, Father,’ he said, ‘everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.’
Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. ‘Simon,’ he said to Peter, ‘are you asleep? Couldn’t you keep watch for one hour? Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.’
Once more he went away and prayed the same thing. When he came back, he again found them sleeping, because their eyes were heavy. They did not know what to say to him.
Returning the third time, he said to them, ‘Are you still sleeping and resting? Enough! The hour has come. Look, the Son of Man is delivered into the hands of sinners. Rise! Let us go! Here comes my betrayer!’
* * *
Peter, James and John were with Jesus in Gethsemane. He drew apart from them, instructing them to keep watch.
They fell asleep.
Their teacher, their leader, their Lord, their Messiah was praying, almost in desperation – and they fell asleep!
Jesus woke them, and admonished Peter. “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation.”
And, despite this, when Jesus withdrew again to pray, the disciples fell asleep. When he woke them, “They did not know what to say to him.”
Jesus withdrew a third time, and the disciples fell asleep once more.
How were the disciples able to sleep at such a moment of crisis? Even if they didn’t understand what was happening, surely the agony of the prayer that Jesus prayed, over and over again, would have served to keep them awake?
Note that Jesus doesn’t excuse their failure, but neither is his rebuke harsh. In fact, it’s compassionate; he acknowledges that they want to do the right thing but have failed, because, “ ’The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.’ ”
When the disciples fall asleep, they leave Jesus utterly alone with his sorrow. “ ‘My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,’ he said to them.”
The falling away of all human support is necessary. Jesus is going to a place that is both unique, and yet familiar to each one of us. He is going to die. Sooner or later, we reach that point when human love can no longer hold us to this world, and we pass – alone – through the deep water of death. As we approach our end, we can feel secure in the knowledge that Jesus has been this way before us. He was fully human, and he experienced the worst our world could do to him.
Thank you, Lord Jesus.
Thank you that Jesus was fully human, and that he suffered and died for us. I am sorry for the times when I am not awake to what you would have me do – and for the times when I know perfectly well what you want me to do, and fail to do it. I’m sorry; have mercy on me.
In Jesus’ name, Amen