Matthew 26:36-46 NRSV
Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane; and he said to his disciples, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” He took with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be grieved and agitated. Then he said to them, “I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and stay awake with me.” And going a little farther, he threw himself on the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want but what you want.” Then he came to the disciples and found them sleeping; and he said to Peter, “So, could you not stay awake with me one hour? Stay awake and pray that you may not come into the time of trial; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Again he went away for the second time and prayed, “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.” Again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy. So leaving them again, he went away and prayed for the third time, saying the same words. Then he came to the disciples and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? See, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Get up, let us be going. See, my betrayer is at hand.”
Read in isolation, this passage paints a bleak portrait of humanity. Betrayal takes shape in Judas – the disciple who seems blind to his own act of deception, even in the sharing of the supper. Ignorance characterizes the disciples’ general lack of understanding of the gravity of this moment – that, when asked merely to stay awake and pray in the Garden, they repeatedly fall asleep. Fear is epitomized in the disciple, Peter, who denies acquaintance with Jesus, let alone allegiance to him.
All of these characters are despicable in one way or another. Unfortunately though, I look no further than my own mirror to see a person who identifies with them at their worst. The hope that I know in this passion narrative is that Jesus chose to associate with those such as me – to live for and love those such as me.
And because of Jesus’ love for the world, he chose to subject himself to the bleakness of indifference from Pilate, who – though he thought Jesus innocent of any crime – allowed the flogging and crucifixion of an innocent man. Jesus chose to subject himself to the bleakness of gratuitous violence at the hands of the guards, who mocked Jesus’ kingship with a crown of thorns and spat at him with shouts of, “Hail, King of the Jews!”
There are acts of occasional acts of courage and kindness expressed in the passion narrative, such as Joseph of Arimathea providing a tomb for Jesus, and the women keeping watch. But Jesus is the only hero. Thanks be to God.
We thank you, God, for encountering the faulty and flawed, and for living for and loving us despite ourselves. Strengthen your church and your people to live faithfully, wisely, courageously, justly, and peacefully. May we, your people, live into the image of God, as you made us. And may we, your church, grow more and more into the likeness of Christ in the world. Amen.