They set the thirty pieces of silver, as the price of the Priceless One, on Whom they, of the children of Israel had set a price. Watch and pray, that you enter not into temptation! The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak. Therefore, watch!
~9th Antiphon, The 12 Gospels, Holy Thursday Evening, Trans. by Fr. George Papadeas
Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane, and He said to His disciples, “Sit here, while I go yonder 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, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as Thou wilt.” 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.”
Matthew 26: 36-41
The service of the 12 Gospels covers a lot of ground, from the final teachings of Christ in the upper room of the Last Supper, through His burial and the setting of the guard over the stone that covered the tomb. Having reflected on the Last Supper and the final teachings of Christ, the scene now shifts from the upper room to the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus and His disciples have left the security and privacy of the upper room and are now in the Garden of Gethsemane, late at night. Jesus knows that Judas is about to betray Him. It is only an hour at most until He becomes a prisoner of the Romans, which will involve torture and humiliation and will culminate in painful crucifixion.
In this scene, we see Jesus in His full humanity. He is sorrowful and troubled, despondent to the point of death. He is scared. He is lonely. He takes His three most trusted disciples and asks them to watch Him. He doesn’t ask them to do anything in particular, just to sit and watch with Him so that He will not be alone. He is not asking them to change the course of the events of the next few hours, or to defend Him, or even to pray for Him, just to sit and watch with Him.
Jesus goes a little way away from the disciples and begins to pray. His prayer is very human. In it, He beseeches God the Father, that if it is possible, to take away the cup of suffering from Him that He is about to drink. He knows it is going to be painful. He asks if there is another way to do this, that it may happen differently. However, He also submits to the will of the Father, that it may be the Father’s will, not the Son’s, that be done here. This is actually a beautiful model for how we are to pray. We are to express our desires to God, there is nothing wrong with that. Many times, what we want and what He wants for us have no conflict. However, there are many times when what we want is not what He wants, not because He doesn’t want us to have things, but because He wants the best things for us, He wants us to be the best version of ourselves, and many times the things we want (or think we want) do not lead us to be the best version of ourselves. In prayer, it is important that we also “submit” to the will of God. This is why we pray “Thy will be done” in the Lord’s Prayer, as an acknowledgement that when there is a conflict between God’s will and our own, we are supposed to deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow Him. (Mark 8:34)
After Jesus’ prayer, He came back to the disciples and found them sleeping. This must add further to His sorrow. If the disciples cannot watch even a single hour, (watch, not do anything) how will they avoid temptation.
Let’s look at it from the disciples’ perspective. It’s been a stressful week, to put it mildly. The Last Supper has likely been very confusing, all these final instructions, all this uncertainty. No doubt they are mentally exhausted, and with the late hour, they are physically exhausted. I have no doubt that their intentions were good. I don’t think they sat there, the three of them, and said “hey, let’s all fall asleep and leave our friend alone.” The Bible doesn’t say if maybe they tried to sleep in shifts, like two stay awake while another slept.
We’ve all had the experience of not being able to keep our eyes open because we are so tired. There are many times when we’ve been willing to continue on, where the spirit is willing, but the flesh is so tired that we can’t stay awake. There are many times that we summon a will we didn’t think we had to stay the course. And undoubtedly, there have been many times we’ve plowed through something even when we’ve been exhausted. There are many times when the spirit will’s the body. There are many times when the spirit is willing, but the flesh will not cooperate. And it is almost certain that if the spirit is not willing, the body will not cooperate.
There needs to be a discipline between the flesh and the spirit. We need to be vigilant in “watching” with Jesus, in staying faithful to Him, especially when we are “tired.” In this case, “tired” does not only mean physical fatigue, but tired from the battle between good and evil that rages in our minds, tired of the frustrations of life that make us want to quit, tired of fighting the temptations and just giving in to them.
While the hymn reminds us of how the disciples broke down spiritually under the fatigue of their bodies in the Garden of Gethsemane, the applicable message for our lives is to be vigilant, to summon that extra strength when our flesh is weak, and to carefully watch our spirits, that they are not only willing when it comes to our relationship with the Lord, but they are willing to dig deep and muster strength we don’t think we have, to “watch” with the Lord. It is certainly hard to battle temptation under any circumstance. But to do so without vigilance, to go to battle with weakness, does not give us much of a chance. Our flesh is weak—it is prone to sickness, fatigue and temptation. Therefore, our spirits must be strong, with a strong desire to watch with Christ, to be in sync with Him.
O Lord, when You willingly came to Your Passion, You declared to Your Disciples: “If you could not watch with Me for one hour, how could your promise to die for Me? Look at Judas, how he sleeps not, but hastens to betray Me to the enemy? Arise, pray, lest any of you deny Me, when you see Me on the Cross.” O long-suffering One, glory to You. (6th Antiphon) Papadeas
Be vigilant in striving to be in sync with Christ!