On the way, Jesus told them, “Tonight all of you will desert me. … “No!” Peter insisted. “Even if I have to die with you, I will never deny you!” And all the other disciples vowed the same. … Then he [Jesus] returned to the disciples and found them asleep. He said to Peter, “Couldn’t you watch with me even one hour? Keep watch and pray, so that you will not give in to temptation. For the spirit is willing, but the body is weak!” [Matthew 26:31,35,40-41 (NLT)]
Apparently, coffee was not served after dinner in the upper room that Thursday night. Granted, a nap is welcome after a big meal but that Passover meal was like no other and Jesus had predicted that his disciples would desert him. After such a warning, one would think they’d be extra cautious and make every effort to stay awake and keep watch with Him in the garden as He’d asked. Jesus even singled out Peter, James and John, revealing that He was deeply distressed and overwhelmed with grief. Surely, that should have motivated his dear friends to keep vigil with Him. Jesus went to pray but returned to find them asleep. After waking them, He specifically instructed Peter to stay awake and pray to stand strong against temptation. Having been told that he would deny Jesus three times before morning, that warning alone should have been enough to keep him awake and deep in prayer. Unfortunately, when Jesus returned the second time, the men were sound asleep. For a third time, Jesus went back to pray. When he returned, yet again the disciples slumbered. While the Lord was in anguish and prayed so intently that he sweat drops of blood, his most trusted friends took an after-dinner snooze. They were asleep on the job.
Perhaps the disciples’ biggest mistake was in their self-confidence. When told they’d abandon their beloved leader, they all protested that could never happen. Unfortunately, not one of them took his possible betrayal to God in prayer. Although they didn’t set out to deliberately desert Him, by not praying, they failed the test before it had even begun. Even the best of intentions won’t protect us in time of trial; for that we need prayer. Moreover, they failed a friend in need. Jesus wasn’t complaining about the bitter cup he was being given but, had the disciples stayed awake with him, they could have shared His pain. Sharing our prayers and strength with those in distress is what the community of faith is supposed to do.
Peter was the disciple who asked Jesus if he should forgive someone seven times. Having previously been taught that three times was enough, seven times seemed rather generous. How fortunate for him that Jesus said we should forgive seventy times seven. Otherwise, with Peter’s three naps and three denials, he would have used most of his forgiveness allotment in just one night.
Like Jesus, we’ve all had friends fail us at some time or another; in fact, perhaps, like Him, we should come to expect it from time to time. From His example, however, we learn to love and forgive their human failings. Like the disciples, we’ve all been overly confident in our own abilities and self-control. Thinking we’re invulnerable to the enemy’s attack is one of his favorite tactics. Finally, like the disciples, we frequently fail our Christian brothers and sisters. When comfortable, content and well fed, we often become oblivious to the needs of others and stop being vigilant and prayerful. Do we pray with and keep watch over our friends during their times of suffering and difficulty or are we asleep on the job?