By James Cornwell
A Reading from the Gospel of Mark 14:27-42
27 And Jesus said to them, “You will all become deserters; for it is written,
‘I will strike the shepherd,
and the sheep will be scattered.’
28 But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee.” 29 Peter said to him, “Even though all become deserters, I will not.” 30 Jesus said to him, “Truly I tell you, this day, this very night, before the cock crows twice, you will deny me three times.” 31 But he said vehemently, “Even though I must die with you, I will not deny you.” And all of them said the same.
32 They went to a place called Gethsemane; and he said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” 33 He took with him Peter and James and John, and began to be distressed and agitated. 34 And he said to them, “I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and keep awake.” 35 And going a little farther, he threw himself on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. 36 He said, “Abba, Father, for you all things are possible; remove this cup from me; yet, not what I want, but what you want.” 37 He came and found them sleeping; and he said to Peter, “Simon, are you asleep? Could you not keep awake one hour? 38 Keep awake and pray that you may not come into the time of trial; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” 39 And again he went away and prayed, saying the same words. 40 And once more he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were very heavy; and they did not know what to say to him. 41 He came a third time and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? Enough! The hour has come; the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. 42 Get up, let us be going. See, my betrayer is at hand.”
Today’s gospel reading includes the prediction of Jesus that St. Peter will deny him three times. St. Peter is adamant about his devotion to Jesus: “If I must die with you, I will not deny you.” And the force of his determination is so strong that the other disciples are swept up in affirmation of the same commitment.
No doubt if the time of trial had come upon them then, the disciples would have held their ground. They had just received the Lord’s Supper and heard their Lord prophesy — their hearts were on fire for the truth of the gospel.
But then Jesus led them into the garden of Gethsemane instead. We are familiar with traditions that treat this time in the garden as a time of temptation for Jesus, but we also see here a softening of the disciples’ resolve. Jesus returns to them after asking them to watch and finds them asleep. He warns them that although their spirit is willing, their flesh is weak, and they must remain vigilant and prayerful, lest they enter into temptation. Jesus leaves and returns a second time, and finds them asleep again. They are so disoriented by their slumber that “they did not know what to answer him,” suggesting a further weakening. A third time, Jesus departs, prays, and returns to find them asleep. But it is now too late, the hour is at hand, and the temptation against which Jesus warned them arrives. Christ is betrayed, and his disciples — their devotion gradually eroded — scatter.
Prior to the temptation to actively deny Jesus, the disciples meet a softer temptation: to sleep rather than remain watchful. Temptation will come upon us all. In order that we not be led into it, to a place where it encompasses us round about and we can no longer resist, we must remain ever watchful and prayerful. We must stand strong in the smaller ways so that we are prepared for the larger challenges we each must eventually face.
James Cornwell lives and teaches in the Hudson Valley with his wife Sarah and their six children.
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Daily Devotional Cycle of Prayer
Today we pray for:
St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church, Ft. Thomas, Ky.
The Missionary Diocese of Eha-Amufu (Church of Nigeria)