They went to a place called Gethsemane, and Jesus said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” He took Peter, James and John along with him, and he began to be deeply distressed and troubled. “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,” he said to them. “Stay here and keep watch.”
After the Last Supper, Jesus and his disciples went to the Mount of Olives, a modest hill immediately across the Kidron Valley from Jerusalem. From there, they descended to the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus told his disciples to sit down while he went to pray, but he took three of them with him, Peter, James, and John. He explained to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.” Therefore, he said, “Stay here and keep watch” (14:34). (Photo: Inside the Garden of Gethsemane in 2011. The olive trees in the Garden are almost 2,000 years old, but not the same ones that were there when Jesus and his disciples made this visit. The Romans destroyed the original trees in A.D. 70. The current trees may have grown from the roots of the ancient trees, however.)
If you’re familiar with the story of Jesus praying in Gethsemane, you know that the three disciples whom he selected to come along with him did not “keep watch.” The Greek verb used here can also mean, “stay awake.” In fact, Peter, James, and John fell asleep while Jesus was praying, much to his chagrin (14:37-38). In their defense, we might observe that they were exhausted and “their eyes were heavy” (14:40). Nevertheless, they disappointed and abandoned Jesus in his hour of intense need.
Mark does not explain why Jesus brought his friends with him in the garden. Yet, given what Jesus said about his soul being overwhelmed with sorrow, and given his clear wish that they had remained awake while he prayed, it seems likely that Jesus was seeking moral and spiritual support. He did not want to be alone in his time of deathly sorrow. He wanted friends who would stay awake with him, pray with him, and be with him in what might have been the most difficult moment in Jesus’s life, at least prior to his trial and crucifixion. We know that at other times Jesus went out to pray alone (1:35). But, anticipating what lay ahead for him in Gethsemane and beyond, he reached out to those who were closest to him and brought them with him.
The example of Jesus reminds us that we are not meant to live, work, and lead all by ourselves. Of course there are times when solitude in helpful, either for mental focus or for spiritual attentiveness. But, God made us to live and work in community with others. When we face challenges and trials, like Jesus, we should not go it alone. We should look for trusted friends, advisors, and supporters and ask them to join us. As long as they stay awake (!), they will be channels of God’s grace, love, and peace. They will help us to be strong when we might be weak, wise when we might be foolish, committed when we might quit. They will encourage us to be strong in the Lord when we need his strength most of all.
QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER:
Can you think of difficult times in your life when you chose to go it alone? How was this for you?
Can you think of difficult times when you invited others to come with you? What happened? How was this for you?
If you were facing an extremely difficult trial, who are the people you would ask to join you?
Are you the kind of person whom someone else would ask to come along in a time of distress or testing?
Gracious Lord, thank you for this amazing story, for allowing us to see you in your time of distress and suffering. Thank you for modeling for us the importance of not being alone.
Help us, we pray, to live, work, play, rest, and lead in community with others. Especially in times of trial and temptation, may we reach out to others.
And when we are called upon to offer crucial support, help us, Lord, to “stay awake.” May we be there for those who need us, faithful in our watching and our praying. Amen.