Then Jesus came with them to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to his disciples, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.”
Certain aspects of this moment with Jesus and his disciples in Gethsemane during his time of agony, are relatable for many of us. Any time we’re “up against the ropes” torn between doing what is right and running from, hiding, ignoring or denying doing the right thing, we are in our own little garden of agony. Those times of wishing our life could be another way, but knowing we must do what is right even though it will come at a great cost to us –be it to a relationship with others or to our reputation, or our integrity—are our personal moments of agony. Here in the garden, Jesus gives us a clear model to follow in how to pray our way through accepting our fate, facing our suffering and holding onto hope that somehow, when it’s all over and done with, we too, will find a “new life” and be “resurrected.”
But what has perplexed me for some time now are the words Jesus says to his disciples in Matthew’s gospel while he is suffering. “Sit here while I go over there and pray,” he tells them. Not knowing what to do with these words, I’ve chosen for a long time to focus instead on Mark’s telling of this same event where Jesus says, “Sit here while I pray,” (Mark 14:32), which can sound a lot more like “Sit and pray with me,” and to my ear, at least, is much kinder. But Matthew’s recalling of Jesus’s words makes it seem as though Jesus wants to be all alone and gives the disciples nothing to do—not even pray with him– while he prays. In essence, it has, at times to me even sounded like, “You knuckleheads go over there and leave me alone. Something important is happening here and I need it to be quiet.” And while “over there” the disciples fall asleep, not once, not twice, but three times. Each time Jesus wakes them and reprimands them for falling asleep. In Mark’s account, where their job of praying can be implied, it makes sense for Jesus to be upset that they fall asleep. But in Matthew’s account, why would Jesus care if they are awake or not if he sends them “over there”?
Then, yesterday, as I held Jesus’ words in my heart, pondering them, I read a reflection by Macrina Weiderkehr, a Benedictine monastic nun, where she talks about herself waking early in the morning to go and pray in the cafeteria of her monastery and spotting another sister near her each morning who was also praying. Upon seeing the other sister day after day in prayer, Weiderkehr is moved to tears recalling something she’d read earlier about the importance of a younger person being mentored by an elder:
Mentoring takes place…when a young person sees in an older person a bright flame of life, which is a reminder of his or her own small flame. When these two flames connect, the younger person gets his or her flame blessed, while the older person moves into deeper wisdom. (pp. 14-15)
Weiderkehr goes on to say she realized then that seeing another sister’s faithfulness to prayer each morning was blessing and strengthening her “own tired flame.”
Through her sharing of this experience, I had a new appreciation for Jesus’ words and actions towards his disciples in this garden scene in Matthew’s gospel. Perhaps it was Jesus’ intention to not just model for the disciples (and us) what to do in times of agony and personal suffering, but in doing so, to give them (and us) a final blessing. Perhaps Jesus wanted the disciples awake and attentive to his prayer because in his time of suffering, it was the only thing he had left to give to bless their “old, tired flames” of faith. Perhaps there really was nothing for the disciples to do but witness the scene as it unfolded, and by their witness, Jesus could be moved “into deeper wisdom.”
In light of this reflection, my eyes have now turned from seeing not just how we, like the disciples, often “fall asleep” to the suffering and agony around (and within) us, but how we are, at times, like Jesus and like Weiderkehr’s faithful sister in the cafeteria, modeling for others how to continue our relationship with God no matter what. To know that sometimes we are the witness and sometimes—hard as it may be to believe– we are the mentor.
Isn’t it marvelous that the miracles of God are so great, my friends, that even in these small moments of seemingly “doing nothing”– save remaining faithful and prayerful to God– that we are both a blessing to others and blessed?
Reflect: What person or persons has been the greatest strength and blessing to me and my “old, tired flame”of faith? How might I thank or acknowledge that person today? What actions and behaviors do I demonstrate that may be a source of strength for others without my even having been aware of them in the past? How might I make room for more such actions or behaviors to “deepen the wisdom” of God in me?
Pray: Dear God, thank you for the gift of faith-filled mentors in my life. Thank you for Jesus’ triumphant example of faith unto death and new life. Help me to never falter in following his example. Forgive me when I falter anyway. Show me how I mentor others through my faith in you. Shine in and through me. Use me now and always for your greatest good.