It is easy to blame the disciples, to look down upon them, even to judge them. After all, they walked with Jesus for three years. They heard his sermons, beheld his miracles, even had his parables explained-and yet they missed so much. So many times we are told in the Scriptures that the disciples did not understand-even when we would say Jesus is being direct in speaking of His death to come in Jerusalem. Even then, we are told, they could not see, could not hear, could not comprehend.
So it’s easy to see the faults of the disciples. Perhaps at times, as I have in moments of weakness to foolishness, to somewhat pity Jesus for having to endure time with such hardhearted and hardheaded men. It’s easy, somehow, to understand Peter’s betrayal. After all, we can all know fear and doubt and uncertainty. All can identify with his act and attitude, his pride before and humiliation after. Even the blossoming from humiliation to humility. But the apparent blindness of the disciples-somehow incomprehensible, dare I say it, unforgivable.
I’ve come to know, or perhaps better-to have it revealed-that as they were, so would I be. Just as I cannot stand in judgment of Adam as thought I would have done differently-perhaps I even would have taken the apple sooner-nor can I stand in judgment of the disciples. Were I there, I likely would have been more lost, more confused, more tempted, perhaps even lead to a greater betrayal.
And more, in writing this, I realize that it’s not just that so they were, so I would have been, but so they were, so I am. How often do I little understand and comprehend-even have been blinded to not just my own sin, but the revelation of the Scriptures-that the disciple are mirrors-12 mirrors-of our own faces, our own failings, our own heart. For how long have I walked with Jesus in the Scriptures, blinded and uncomprehending, foolish and a fool?
Yet there is hope, for the Scriptures give us more than we would see, if we but are given eyes and ears to see and hear and a quickened Spirit to understand. Here, the gospel records that while Jesus prays and asks his disciples to pray for him. And what do they do? Sleep. Now, the night is late, they‘ve had more than a share of excitement for the day, they don’t understand, even now, what is to come. After all, Jesus told them Judas’ hand was against him and they thought he was just going out to buy supplies. But surely, my heart leaps to judge, when the man whom you believe to be the king and messiah asks you to pray, surely staying awake for a bit more, watching in prayer, surely that is not too much. Surely I would have done, would have been different.
Yet here, almost as an afterthought, Luke includes this: “And when he rose from prayer, he came to the disciples and found them sleeping for sorrow.” For sorrow. For sorrow. Why do the disciples sleep? Why can they not watch? It seems that, though total understanding may still be far off-though it may even then be hidden, they have grasped enough of Jesus words, enough of the meaning of the Last Super, to sorrow for what is to come, even though they did not know it.
Ah, and here I finally find myself-how often in sorrow-either at a past grief or in the anticipation of one to come, have I sought refuge in sleep? How often have I given myself over to avoid the pain of painful knowing or of dreadful anticipation? How often, then, would I abandon Jesus to seek my own comfort and respite rather than follow him in the hard road of faithful obedience-for he does not command where He will not and has not led.
And so I find the words of George MacDonald (which I must paraphrase here) true: When you find death crying out in you-as the disciples must have, as I do-it is not death you feel crying out, but life crying out for more life, for Him who is life. You see, Jesus knew his disciples weariness. He knew the death they felt could not be remedied by slumber. He knew that only life-only His life, could revive and give life. So he drank to the dregs the cup of His Father’s wrath, that from His side might pour life and healing for the nations.
Perhaps you, as I today, need to remember and hear again that night has passed and the dawn has come, that the true day is shining, that just as we would slumber in the garden so we awaken not just in the City of God but as living stones being built into a glorious temple, Jesus Christ himself being the cornerstone.
As the Psalmist says, Weeping tarries for the night, but joy comes in the morning.
Todd Wedel is the husband of Rebecca, the father of Anna Ruth and Ellie, a teacher and occasional writer and poet.