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Gospel of Matthew 26: 36-46 (NIV)
36 Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” 37 He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled. 38 Then he said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.”
39 Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.”
40 Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. “Could you men not keep watch with me for one hour?” he asked Peter. 41 “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the body is weak.”
42 He went away a second time and prayed, “My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.”
43 When he came back, he again found them sleeping, because their eyes were heavy. 44 So he left them and went away once more and prayed the third time, saying the same thing.
45 Then he returned to the disciples and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting? Look, the hour is near, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. 46 Rise, let us go! Here comes my betrayer!”
Two weeks ago we considered the Transfiguration of our Lord. Jesus had selected three from among the twelve apostles to witness the event.
On the night he was to be betrayed Jesus took these same three, Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, deeper into the place called Gethsemane. There he said to them, “Stay here and keep watch with me.” This was deeply emotional for Jesus as he prayed to the Father, surrendering to the Father’s will. He knew that, on the following day, he would be severed from the Father as never before, cut off as he became sin who knew no sin, regarded as the bearer of all the sin of every human being.
Jesus knew one of his apostles was about to betray him. He also knew that one of these whom he had asked to “Watch and pray” would soon deny even knowing him. Even so, while recognising their weaknesses he urged them to pray and continued to exhort them. His focus remained on those whom he had come to save, rejecting any temptation to try to save himself.
“The spirit is willing,” said Jesus to the three, “but the body is weak” (verse 40c). With me, you might readily acknowledge that the body is weak, especially when weariness kicks in. But how is your spirit? Is it ever willing to do Jesus’ bidding? Or does your spirit sometimes rebel, putting off until a more convenient time what it recognises it is being called upon to do immediately?
Some find praying hard to do. Some find it is more comfortable to talk with fellow Christians about praying than it is to begin lifting deliberate prayers to the Father. Some Christians think about a person for whom they have undertaken to pray but go no further, declining to put effort into speaking to the Father about that person’s real needs.
In this Lenten season, let us renew our determination to be willing in spirit.