A Reflection on Mark 14. 37-41 by The Venerable Patrick Evans
Jesus came back and found them asleep; and he said to Peter ‘Asleep, Simon? Were you not able to stay awake for one hour? Stay awake, all of you; and pray that you may be spared the test. The Spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.’ Once more he went away and prayed. On his return he found them asleep again, for their eyes were heavy; and they did not know how to answer him. The third time he came and said to them ‘Still sleeping? Still resting? Enough. The hour has come. The Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Up, let us go. The traitor is upon us.’
Peter or Simon?
Mark makes the point that there is the old man and new man tension within Simon/Peter. That tension is within us too. The new character which he owes to his association with Jesus is in abeyance.
‘…that you may be spared the test’
At one level it’s the test, the trial, that Jesus knows awaits him once he is arrested. But this will be only the human version of what is coming on Israel and the whole world. Like many Jews of his time, he believed that world history would pass into a moment of great terror and darkness and that the coming kingdom would emerge the other side. The test, the trial, the great tribulation in both senses would be faced by Jesus alone.
‘The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.’
I was ticked off for falling asleep during an all night vigil as a curate. It was about 2am and I was exhausted. I have sympathy for Peter, James and John for the tension and excitement had drained their strength and resistance. They, who had been protesting that they would die for him, could not even stay awake for him in his hour of need. ‘The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak’ has been used ever since, often about trivial matters, but it is a reminder of our humanity with all our noble aspirations and declarations so often crumbling away when the going gets tough. Our imagination may also invite us to wonder if Jesus is sharing his own fears, sensing what lies ahead and agonising about his spiritual oneness with and obedience to his Father that will be tested in the physical agony he is to endure.
The disciples’ sleepiness may echo their spiritual blindness which Mark so constantly stresses earlier in his Gospel. Peter will be turned inside out by the whole process. The triple prayer of Jesus in the garden will find a ghastly parody in the triple renunciation that Peter will make. Then finally Jesus embraces what lies ahead ‘Up let us go. The traitor is upon us.’
These few verses invite me to face my journey yet again; my weariness, my backsliding, my moments of utter spiritual blindness and my heartfelt wish to follow Jesus, to hold fast to all that is of love and obedience to him. Our resilience is often tested and certainly during this Covid virus. It’s not an easy road and thank God he travels with us always. Tonight, and this week, we continue to travel with him quietly and in prayerful reflection as the events that will turn the world upside down unfold.