I can’t leave Matthew 26 yet. Right where we left off: 38He told them, “My soul is crushed with grief to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.” … 43 “When he returned to them again, he found them sleeping, for they couldn’t keep their eyes open.”
He’s found them sleeping once already. Two verses later, his betrayer will arrive in the garden. James and John will prove themselves unable to “drink the bitter cup of suffering” they swore they would share with Christ. Peter will deny Christ over and over and over, just like he promised he’d never, ever do.
And 2,000ish years later, I’ll set out to live my day full of purpose, the Big Picture of life before my eyes, and five minutes later start sinking into the quicksand of distraction. I don’t doubt the disciples spent at least a few minutes in devout prayer before their eyes drooped shut. Lately my purpose for each day has felt like heavy eyelids.
I know my calling at this stage of life: To raise, teach, and lovingly live with four small disciples.
I’m as immersed in my task as Jesus’ disciples were in following him. In general, homeschool means that where I go, we all go. The five of us all together over a daily routine of breakfast, history, math, grammar (etc, etc.); errands; chores, cleaning up. So much cleaning up. Likewise, for those disciples, following him meant they spent all of their time with Jesus; walking, eating, watching, listening, learning from their Rabbi. Praying.
Sometimes he spoke cryptically, or in stories, and sometimes just plain and simple. That’s how it was when he told them (more than once, in fact) exactly how he was going to die:
“Listen,” he said, “we’re going up to Jerusalem, where the Son of Man will be betrayed …They will sentence him to die… to be mocked, flogged with a whip, and crucified. But on the third day he will be raised from the dead.” (Matthew 20:18-19)
You’d think they’d have been on alert! When Jesus brought Peter, James, and John with him to pray in Gethsemane, saying, “My soul is crushed with grief,” even this was not enough to rouse them from their sleepiness.
I wonder if they expected more fanfare; more recognition. James and John’s mom asked Jesus outright to save special seats beside Him in his Kingdom for her boys. She hoped for some payoff; I suspect they did too.
I can understand this. Once I imagined discipling, or ministering, would mean meeting someone for lunch and and hour of good talks, leaving with a nice warm feeling inside, feeling that I’d helped somehow. I didn’t expect to live out the painful process by being tried throughout the day, in continuous contact with my people, continually refined by the type of situations that will cause me to grow in patience (ugh), kindness and gentleness (ouch). Where a dripping faucet of kid complaints and sibling squabbles feels like I’m getting absolutely nowhere; like my the amount of Jesus inside my heart isn’t enough to overcome the all the humanity around here.
This is why those sleepy disciples captivate, and comfort. I’m as embarrassed for them as I tend to be for myself. Charged with just such a little task, and unable to even keep at it. A reminder that an imperfect Jesus follower is the only kind there is. But thank God that “he knows how weak we are; he remembers we are only dust.” (Psalm 103:14)
Otherwise Christ’s soul-grieving cup of suffering would not have been required. But in his goodness, he came, “not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mt. 20:28)