Red Letter Year: 6/3

Matthew 26:31-46

31 On the way, Jesus told them, “Tonight all of you will desert me. For the Scriptures say, ‘God will strike the Shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’ 32 But after I have been raised from the dead, I will go ahead of you to Galilee and meet you there.”

33 Peter declared, “Even if everyone else deserts you, I will never desert you.”

34 Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, Peter: this very night, before the rooster crows, you will deny three times that you even know me.”

35 “No!” Peter insisted. “Even if I have to die with you, I will never deny you!” And all the other disciples vowed the same.

36 Then Jesus went with them to the olive grove called Gethsemane, and he said, “Sit here while I go over there to pray.” 37 He took Peter and Zebedee’s two sons, James and John, and he became anguished and distressed. 38 He told them, “My soul is crushed with grief to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.”

39 He went on a little farther and bowed with his face to the ground, praying, “My Father! If it is possible, let this cup of suffering be taken away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.”

40 Then he returned to the disciples and found them asleep. He said to Peter, “Couldn’t you watch with me even one hour? 41 Keep watch and pray, so that you will not give in to temptation. For the spirit is willing, but the body is weak!”

42 Then Jesus left them a second time and prayed, “My Father! If this cup cannot be taken away unless I drink it, your will be done.” 43 When he returned to them again, he found them sleeping, for they couldn’t keep their eyes open.

44 So he went to pray a third time, saying the same things again. 45 Then he came to the disciples and said, “Go ahead and sleep. Have your rest. But look — the time has come. The Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. 46 Up, let’s be going. Look, my betrayer is here!”


There are a few things to pay attention to in this passage. One is the internal struggle Jesus goes through here. He is depressed, confused, and so upset he feels like he is about to die (that he feels all this exonerates them as not being sinful). Ever been there? We can see some of this internal struggle in how his prayer shifts from “if some other way is possible, then no to this,” to “if no other way is possible, then okay.” This is a poignant example of how we work things out in prayer, how we come to terms with God’s will, with our own desires and weaknesses, with the full range of emotion that goes into being human. (It is also a needed corrective for prosperity-driven teachings that discourage people from praying “if this is possible” – Jesus himself prayed this.)

Gethsemane stands as the counterpoint to the Transfiguration. In both scenes, Jesus brought the same three disciples. In the Transfiguration, we see the fullest expression in the Gospels of Jesus’ divinity. In Gethsemane, we see the fullest expression of his humanity. The orthodox understanding of Jesus as fully God and fully human comes directly from holding these passages together in tension.

The other thing that really jumps out here is the disciples and their inability to stay awake, despite Jesus’ explicit command. They have only just declared their willingness to die for Jesus, but now they can’t even stay awake and pray when he asks them to. Thinking back to the Transfiguration again, we see interesting parallels. Faced with Jesus’ divinity, they became over-excited, talked and planned nonsense and had to be quieted. Faced with Jesus’ humanity, they are underwhelmed and keep falling asleep. Jesus’ disappointment with them is evident, he finally doesn’t bother waking them again. Like the foolish bridesmaids in chapter 25, they can’t keep focus, they can’t keep alert, they can’t keep praying. They claim to be ready for action, ready for glory, but they show here that they are not ready to lay the groundwork of prayer necessary for kingdom action and kingdom glory. Jesus shows us here that he himself went through a process in prayer coming to terms with his next steps in bringing about the kingdom (Heb. 5.8 describes this as Jesus “learning obedience”). He implores Peter and the others to do the same, but they don’t and will soon desert him. It is to their credit that we still have this account of their disobedient napping. They made sure we had this account to remind us that keeping alert comes by prayer, knowing our next steps in advancing the kingdom come by prayer, that all action and glory not grounded in prayer and founded on prayer are sure to go wrong.

Spend some time rereading and reflecting on how Jesus struggles in prayer in this passage. Keep alert and pray like that.

The New Living Translation (NLT)Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright© 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.