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Matthew 26:36–41

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.” He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.” 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.” Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. “Couldn’t you men keep watch with me for one hour?” he asked Peter. “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”

As we begin the lenten journey in 2021, this story helps orient us to the basic reality of the Gospel and of our lives: Jesus is the hero and we are...not.  Our faith, hope and confidence is not in our ability to achieve religious progress, but in pointing our lives toward Jesus and following after him, no matter how blunderingly.  

The intensity is increasing here in Matthew’s Gospel as Jesus is getting close to the time when he will be crucified.  Jesus has just let his disciples know that they will disown him when things get tough, to which Peter responds with the ultimate confidence of a blowhard: “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.” The rest of the group add their agreement.  

Jesus rolls his eyes.

The very next thing that they all do is go to the garden of Gethsemane.  It’s night.  Jesus grabs 3 of his most energetic disciples: Peter & the “sons of thunder” brothers James and John.  He asks them for one simple favor, "Stay here and keep watch with me.”

Sure no problem Jesus.  We are ready to die for you. Then they nap.
Meanwhile, Jesus is crying out to his Father, having the prayer session of his life.  He doesn’t want to do what he is about to do (go to the cross), but he yields his desires to God.  And he doesn't;t just say it, a little while later that evening he actually does it!  He follows through and allows himself to be arrested, which of course kicks off his trial, scourging, and sentencing of death by crucifixion.

Jesus is willing in spirit and has the ability in his body to obey the Father’s desires over his own. The disciples, not so much.  When Jesus returns to them he has to wipe drool off their faces as they snore.    

Jesus hits them with: “The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”

How gracious.  He could have said, "Wake up and smell the failure you miserable disasters."  But he doesn't because he is Jesus.  Full of grace, mercy, and love.  It's the same with all of us who are trying to do what Jesus asks of us.  We want so much to be heroes of the faith, and then we fall asleep at the smallest of tasks.  Like love enemies.  Like loving fellow Christians. Like loving our spouse.  

“The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”

This is actually the point of Lent, that we take some time to recognize our need for Jesus and how poor we are at following him.  It’s not to feel sorry for ourselves, but to more fully turn our lives toward him.   Because he is the hero of the story and that's just how it is.  So let's follow him.   

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