Friday, August 28, 2009

Before the cock crows twice, you will deny me three times


And Jesus said to them, ‘You will all become deserters; for it is written,

“I will strike the shepherd,

and the sheep will be scattered.”

But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee.’ Peter said to him, ‘Even though all become deserters, I will not.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Truly I tell you, this day, this very night, before the cock crows twice, you will deny me three times.’ But he said vehemently, ‘Even though I must die with you, I will not deny you.’ And all of them said the same.

They went to a place called Gethsemane; and he said to his disciples, ‘Sit here while I pray.’ He took with him Peter and James and John, and began to be distressed and agitated. And he said to them, ‘I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and keep awake.’ And going a little farther, he threw himself on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. He said, ‘Abba, Father, for you all things are possible; remove this cup from me; yet, not what I want, but what you want.’ He came and found them sleeping; and he said to Peter, ‘Simon, are you asleep? Could you not keep awake one hour? Keep awake and pray that you may not come into the time of trial; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.’ And again he went away and prayed, saying the same words. And once more he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were very heavy; and they did not know what to say to him. He came a third time and said to them, ‘Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? Enough! The hour has come; the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Get up, let us be going. See, my betrayer is at hand.’

- Mark 14:27-42

If I let myself really feel the emotional weight of this passage, it's perhaps the saddest of all in a certain sense. This is the reality, not just of human weakness, but of disappointment. We will be let down by our own natures, we will be let down by our friends and those closest to us, and the heartbreaking pain is really in the nature of our weaknesses. As Jesus says, "The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak."

My study bible notes an important distinction in Peter's statement. He swears his allegiance, saying, "Even though I must die with you, I will not deny you." But we all know what is going to happen, and Jesus foretells it exactly. My study bible makes the distinction here that Peter is unaware of the need for spirit in the assistance of faith; by ourselves, we don't have the full power of faith that we think we do. Or, at least Peter doesn't. Our own strength is not what it is coupled with divine help. Rather, the source of that strength is not of ourselves. And that, in my opinion, is a very important understanding of what faith does in our lives. It is the relationship to the Divine that helps us to retain faith and strength, and shares with us these gifts of the spirit.

After swearing this great allegiance, the apostles - those closest to Jesus - disappoint him merely by being unable to stay awake and watch with him. Jesus, in fully human revelation of this part of his nature, goes through his emotional turmoil about what is to come. 'Abba, Father, for you all things are possible; remove this cup from me; yet, not what I want, but what you want.' 'Remove this cup from me,' I read, is the fully human nature of Jesus speaking. My study bible notes, "His divinity cannot suffer; his humanity can and does."

In my small way, I can so relate to this, and I imagine so can many other people. How many times have I prayed for an outcome, for something terrible not to happen. Or, even more closely to the point, I feel that if I stand for something that it seems I'm asked to through repeated prayer, others' response around me will be terrible. And yet, it seems, God's will is different from my own, God's perspective different from my own. Time and again, human nature will fail us, human corruption and weakness will disappoint. But through that great struggle that is the center of our lives and faith in some way, there are always lessons to be learned. The crucifix is somehow at that great center, or crossroads, of this reality, squarely in its midst. 'The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.' We are all here in this blinding spotlight of choice, and we must remember that our strength is not just of ourselves. We are all on a learning curve; God's plans and intentions for us may be something quite different from what we think is important. Certainly from Jesus' human perspective, we can imagine all the worries about what will happen to his flock if he perishes. Human beings have free will; it is up to each person to choose how he or she responds to this crucifixion, as to everything else. Nevertheless, our fully human Son of Man immediately agrees to the Divine Will.

And, to top off the heartbreak, at this moment Jesus is let down by his friends, who cannot keep awake and watch with him. To "watch and pray" is an echo of what we have read in the recent readings, about keeping alert and being vigilant. It is the way in which we avoid entering into temptation: to help us with our weakness, to stay on the good path.

'Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? Enough! The hour has come; the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Get up, let us be going. See, my betrayer is at hand.’ We know that betrayals and weakness will come; emotional dependence upon ourselves alone will never give us the strength of patience, faith, forbearance. We are to "watch and pray." And we are to understand, from Jesus' great example, that we accept life as it is, in its full reality, and move in faith. Human free will means that weaknesses and disappointments in their myriad form will always be with us and around us. We stand at that crossroads of choice, and we pray to make the right ones, knowing that God's goals may be hidden from us and our perspective; and yet, we are included as essential to those plans.