The Day’s Scripture
32 Jesus and his disciples came to a place called Gethsemane. Jesus said to them, “Sit here while I pray.” 33 He took Peter, James, and John along with him. He began to feel despair and was anxious. 34 He said to them, “I’m very sad. It’s as if I’m dying. Stay here and keep alert.” 35 Then he went a short distance farther and fell to the ground. He prayed that, if possible, he might be spared the time of suffering. 36 He said, “Abba, Father, for you all things are possible. Take this cup of suffering away from me. However—not what I want but what you want.”
37 He came and found them sleeping. He said to Peter, “Simon, are you asleep? Couldn’t you stay alert for one hour? 38 Stay alert and pray so that you won’t give in to temptation. The spirit is eager, but the flesh is weak.”
39 Again, he left them and prayed, repeating the same words. 40 And, again, when he came back, he found them sleeping, for they couldn’t keep their eyes open, and they didn’t know how to respond to him. 41 He came a third time and said to them, “Will you sleep and rest all night? That’s enough! The time has come for the Human One to be betrayed into the hands of sinners. 42 Get up! Let’s go! Look, here comes my betrayer.”
Three times Jesus tells his disciples to keep or stay alert. Four times we read the word sleep or sleeping to describe the disciples’ short-comings at Gethsemane. Jesus asked them to stay alert, stay awake, stay engaged in a time of desperation and fear. Their response is to doze off into slumber. How many times have you fallen asleep attempting to pray before bed? Intercession has often been not so engaging for me, especially when I’m not praying for myself!
But Jesus is not calling his followers to a perfectly altruistic state of mind or to hold an unwavering demeanor of spirituality. To be alert, is to be as Jesus is in this moment: which is fully engaged. Fully attuned and vulnerable. Raw and honest. He is not without fear. Not without anxiety. Not without doubt. Not even without asking to be spared suffering. Jesus feels all of these things. Jesus actually asks to be spared in his prayer. In fact, he declares that to be spared is no doubt in the realm of God-possibility. For you all things are possible . . . take this cup of suffering away from me.
We who have demanded of ourselves, or of others, perfect motives as the requirement for legitimate, faithful action have of course fallen hard. The ask here instead is to stay alert because we will be tempted. Our minds and hearts will never be clean of strange, dissenting thoughts; of stress; of doubt; of an instinct towards self-preservation. To say that this is what Christ demands is to miss the mark on his Words: The spirit is eager, but the flesh is weak. The flesh is weak.
As you are confronted with your own weakness, What choices do you make? Will you choose denial? Will you sweep everything under the rug? Will you cope dangerously in substitute comforts? Will you lie and cheat? Will you feign self-righteousness, be the hero, and play dishonest martyr: I will lose everything for you! Will you crumble into debilitating fear, or succumb to addiction? Or will you simply engage—in all your despair, in all your anxiety—engage honestly with Abba, Father and put all of your heart out there for him to see? This is the beginning of prayer.