Scripture: Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to his disciples, “Sit here, while I go over there and pray.” And taking with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me.” And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” And he came to the disciples and found them sleeping. And he said to Peter, “So, could you not watch with me one hour? Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Again, for the second time, he went away and prayed, “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.” And again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy. So, leaving them again, he went away and prayed for the third time, saying the same words again. Then he came to the disciples and said to them, “Sleep and take your rest later on. See, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise, let us be going; see, my betrayer is at hand.” Matthew 26:36-46 ESV
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Observation: Recapping Yesterday’s Daily Focus, Jesus foretells Peter’s denial of his beloved incarnate Lord. Then, to refocus and bring closure to their sacred celebration, Jesus leads them in a hymn and proceeds to the Mount of Olives with the Eleven. Once settled in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus presents more startling news: they all will abandon him and run for their lives. But their Lord offers hope: he will return to Galilee and reconnect with them once resurrected. Following his usual manner of speaking before thinking, Peter blurts out that he won’t “fall away” when the going gets tough, even though the others will. But Jesus promptly addresses Peter’s arrogance and informs Peter that he will not only abandon his Lord (implied) but will deny he even knew Jesus three times before the rooster crows to herald the dawn of day. Undeterred by Jesus’s prophecy, Peter insists he will not deny his Lord, and the others echo his sentiment.
In today’s reading, Matthew records the last few hours before Jesus’ arrest when he earnestly prays to the Father. Instructing all but Peter, James, and John to sit and rest, he takes the three to a more private setting and transparently confesses that he is distressed while urging them to stay nearby and vigilantly intercede for him. At this point, Jesus prays in solitude, expressing his dread about the looming crucifixion while embracing his desire to fulfill the Father’s will. Twice during his agonizing prayer, he pauses to reconnect with the three but finds them fast asleep. The first time Jesus admonishes them to watch and pray so that they may not fall into temptation. The second time, he quietly retreats to prayer, but when he returns the third time, the Son of Man sternly reprimands them and commands them to rise from their slumber and follow him to his ordained moment of betrayal.
Takeaway: Before reflecting on the text, let’s establish that Jesus debriefed his disciples during the fifty days of his resurrected life about the events of this night and other details of our Gospel narratives that the disciples could not have known firsthand (and that the Holy Spirit enlightened them as well).
This passage may raise questions about whether Jesus’ was all in. But Jesus’ concern about drinking from the cup of suffering pertains not to his humanly physiological nature as the Son of Man but to his spiritual well-being as the Son of God. For when he bears the sins of the world in his body as the final sacrifice to cover the sins of the elect, he will experience for a brief moment a disconnect with his Father because the Father cannot draw near unatoned sin. But once Jesus breathes his last, it is finished. His blood has covered our sin-stained beings (minds, bodies, and spirits), allowing the Father to draw near us who put our faith in Christ, for he sees us now through Christ’s righteousness (2 Corinthians 5:21) since his Son is in us (Colossians 1:27).
So what’s our takeaway? Thankfully, the Gospel writers give us candid snapshots of these last hours before Christ’s crucifixion that assure us Jesus truly knows our human struggle to resist the temptation to follow the path of least resistance where we do not need God. As our Gospels, Acts, and the epistles convey, the disciples learned to access God’s will and appropriate his peace and strength through prayer as a lifeline to overcome their trials, temptations, and suffering—albeit not ideally like the Son but sufficiently to run their race well.
This story also provides a cautionary element: when we attempt to escape crises by checking out (whether retreating or denying), they don’t disappear. Often, we escalate the fallout, which is what will happen to the Eleven when they scatter and hide.
Lastly, on a more positive note, the most effective prayers are the ones that get us in touch with our hearts. While we pray with our minds, if our thoughts disconnect from our feelings, we will short-change ourselves from lasting relief. Luke tells us that Jesus agonized in his prayers to the point where his perspiration appeared like blood droplets (Luke 22:44). David and Asaph’s psalms also express heartfelt agony and honest expressions of anger. Such wholehearted prayers help us grieve and receive the loving care and compassion of our Helper, the Holy Spirit, and the community of believers. And with Christ’s grace, our prayers will infuse the spiritual O2 our lungs desperately need to run the race well to our last breath.
Prayer: Father God, thank you for your Son, who revealed his divine and human natures to us in his prayer life. And we thank you for your Holy Spirit, who guides and interprets our prayers for us. Still, we confess that prayer is often a last-ditch cry when we can’t fix things. So would you please help us to follow your Son’s example and avail humble prayer that gets us in touch with our repressed emotions and brings clarity to our skewed perspectives (that otherwise leave you out of the equation) so that we might find your peace and strength to carry on to the finish line? Amen.
Rev. Gordon Green, M.Div., M.A. Counseling