I’ve been thinking about Gethsemane. Specifically, the part where Jesus’ disciples were kind of worthless. I’ve heard this passage spoken on before:
36 Then cometh Jesus with them unto a place called Gethsemane, and saith unto the disciples, Sit ye here, while I go and pray yonder. 37 And he took with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be sorrowful and very heavy. 38 Then saith he unto them, My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death: tarry ye here, and watch with me. 39 And he went a little farther, 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. 40 And he cometh unto the disciples, and findeth them asleep, and saith unto Peter, What, could ye not watch with me one hour? 41 Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak. 42 He went away again the second time, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if this cup may not pass away from me, except I drink it, thy will be done. 43 And he came and found them asleep again: for their eyes were heavy. 44 And he left them, and went away again, and prayed the third time, saying the same words. 45 Then cometh he to his disciples, and saith unto them, Sleep on now, and take your rest: behold, the hour is at hand, and the Son of man is betrayed into the hands of sinners.
Usually, the focus is on the willingness of Jesus to do the Father’s will in the face of the greatest suffering possible. Quite right, too; I do believe that to be the central point of the passage. The secondary focus, it seems, is the failure of the disciples. At first blush, the point of bringing up their role in the garden at all seems to be to highlight human weakness.
The strength of God, juxtaposed against the weakness of man. And I think it is about that, but not necessarily in a “disappointed Master sighs over the inability of his followers to keep a simple directive” sort of way.
Indeed, I’m not even sure this is about the disciples doing anything wrong, or at least, rather, nothing sinful. I think they failed, but in the same way that tripping on a curb, or dribbling food out of your mouth, or dropping someone’s valuable ceramic vase they told you not to break is failing: not good, not without consequence, certainly a sign of the ineptitude of the body, and at the very least embarrassing, but not a sin.
And also, I think, a minor point in the passage. The real point of bringing it up, I think, is to show how Jesus handles it.
Imagine you know you’re going to be killed. You know that someone who has called himself your friend is going to betray you to your foes. You know you’re going to be mocked, humiliated, and tortured–before going to the death on which the word excruciating will come to be based. You know you’re going to take upon yourself every shard of suffering and guilt that human kind has ever suffered and ever will suffer. And you’re going to let this all happen.
You’re a little stressed.
In fact, since you’re facing the most pain possible in existence, you can’t really sleep. Fortunately, at least, you’ve got your best friends with you.
So you tell them, “I’m feeling weighed down right now. In fact, it feels like the pressure itself is going to kill me early. Can you guys just, you know, sit up with me?” Because you’re facing so much darkness, and you could really use the little candle flame of your friends having your back. You’re facing all the loneliness in the world–quite literally. You’d like some company.
Is that so much to ask?
Apparently, your friends think so. You know, they try to stay up and pray with you and all, but on this wretched night –while you cannot sleep for the ever-haunting knowledge of impending horrors, while your sweat pours thick and your breath comes quick and your heart beats loud in your ears, while the eyes of Lucifer himself gleam as bright as thirty pieces of silver changing hands– they just can’t keep their eyes open. It’s been a long day, man.
You wake them. You ask if it was so much to ask. Chagrined, they shake their heads and pinch themselves and give it another go. You fall on your face before Father God once again, to beg some easier means to your mutual end– I mean, you know of the joy that is set before you and all, but you’re really not feeling it right now, are you?
And then you turn around, and your so-called best friends have dozed off on you again. The ones you’re going to be suffering for, among others. So not feeling it, right?
Never mind Judas, you’re probably feeling pretty betrayed by the exasperating layabouts at your side. All you asked of them was that they be there for you. What worthless friends are these, to fail you when you ask so little, when you need them most?
Is not this where you would sob and scream? Is not this where you would call down angels to prod these worthless worms with flaming swords to keep them awake? Is this not where you decry them as no true friends of yours, for they evidence clearly that they are not?
But this man is not you. This is Jesus the Christ of Nazareth. This is the Lamb of God. This is perfection. This is his reaction:
That he looks upon his sleeping followers, and sighs, “Ah, sleep.” That he looks on his friends, whose company he craves in this dark hour, and knows that he does not need them.
Whatever his feelings may say to the contrary, he does not need anyone but the Father. And that’s a good thing, because if he did need them, he wouldn’t get what he needed. Yes, it would be nicer, if he could have their company through this long and painful night. But they’re too weak to give him that much. And he’s disappointed. But he knows it’s okay. He probably feels no such thing, but he knows the truth, that it’s okay.
And so forgiving them for failing him as friends, he says, “Sleep; you’re going to have to get up and face sadness and confusion all too soon. Get some rest.”
And he returns alone, to the only One he needs in truth. And prays for his friends souls in the coming days.
Jesus, what a friend for sinners,
Jesus, lover of my soul.
Friends may fail me, foes assail me,
He, my savior, makes me whole.
What a friend indeed, that is a friend to friends who fail him, is a friend to his very foes. What an example is he, the man who does not lean on those who are too small to hold him up. What strength, to forgive men for not being enough. He leaned instead into the Trinity, and whatever he did or did not feel, he found all he needed. None other was capable of completing him. None other is capable of completing us.