The Garden of Gethsemane at the base of the Mt. of Olives gives us poignant images of Jesus as He seeks his Father in anguish and travail as what we know of Holy Week nears the climax at the cross on Good Friday.
The place itself carries so much symbolism. The name of the garden represents an olive mill or olive press. Here, surrounded by olive trees harvested and pressed into oil, the passion of Jesus would begin.
He too would be crushed.
On this night, He would feel the crushing agony He was about to face and would plead with His Father to consider if there was no other way that His will might be accomplished. It was a deep crushing of His heart and spirit that would precede the crushing of His body as He would be beaten and then crucified.
Jesus and his disciples would have walked here after the Passover meal they have shared together. Passover was always at the time of the full moon so the moonlight would have illuminated the path they took. He had already spoken of what was to happen to Him when He had broken bread and poured out the wine, but what did the disciples really understand?
He had invited them to share this night with Him, this elite group who had walked with Him during His three years of ministry. They had heard His teaching, seen His miracles, and enjoyed the intimacy of His company that was theirs alone.
And of course there were the three closest to Him (Peter, James, and John) who even on this night were singled out to go farther with Him into the garden where He would fall on His knees. These three had been chosen to be with Him and observed His transfiguration. They were perhaps His closest companions and now they had been invited into another very sacred moment.
As I read the passage and how the disciples responded to His need and how Peter, James, and John fell asleep, I can feel anguish for Jesus in His loneliness. I confess to feeling very judgmental of the disciples for their failure to watch with Him, pray with Him, be truly with Him.
Jesus had told them He would lay down His life and be taken from them and asked them to watch and pray. We have a similar image when Elijah tells Elisha he will be taken, but Elisha does not depart nor take his eyes from Elijah.
Peter, James, and John, however, have fallen asleep despite the Lord’s attempt to awaken them more than once. Even though He has shared with them that His soul was exceedingly sorrowful even to the point of death, their concern for Him does not keep them alert to minister to Him.
What about this troubles me so much?
I think there is something inside of me that wonders if I too fail to be concerned about His heart, His desire for my companionship. How often do I think about or even consider it?
Perhaps we are more like those disciples than we would desire to admit.
They were tired. They had been with Him ministering day after day doing the business of ministry and caring for the people. Now they fail to care for Him, for His heart, in this dark hour.
Have they been so busy doing the work of ministry they were insensitive to His desire for a relationship with them above all else?
Am I? Are you?
Can we be caught up in doing so many good things for Him that we have little energy to simply be with Him?
Ultimately, He offered them grace even as He does us, but I am drawn back to the reality that He left off praying and had gone to them. What was He seeking from them, hoping for?
We will never know.
What I am reminded of as I read the passage out of Matthew 26 is this:
I don’t want to be too tired, too weary, too involved with the busyness of life or ministry that when He comes and simply wants to spend time with me that I fall asleep and miss that time He has carved out for me.
This passage isn’t the only passage in scripture that speaks to being available and ready for being with Him. We see it when Mary chooses the best part. We see it in the parable of the foolish virgins when they have no oil and miss the Lord’s appearing.
Lord, help me, help us, to be available to you, to be alert, and to be ready and make time to be with you the priority. You gave us all you had, sparing nothing. Awaken my heart, our hearts, to what you most desire of me, of us.
Are we asleep?