Friday, April 10, 2009

Good Friday Piece: Disciples in the Garden

I was asked to give a short thought on "Spiritual Blindness" based on Mark 14:32-41 for the ecumenical Good Friday service yesterday at College Wesleyan Church in Marion. Here was the text:

Most of us here today probably haven’t tried to pull an “all nighter” for a while. I remember once in college trying to pull two all nighters in a row. I wasn’t very successful. At some point in the night, you begin to reassess how important the thing you are doing really is. And if you go long enough without sleep, sometimes you become willing to give up on things that really are important.

When I read about the disciples in the Garden, I feel a little sorry for them. It’s been a pretty tense week. Jesus has said and done some very controversial things. It’s even possible they’ve been hiding out in a cave at night near the garden so that no one could find them when they were most vulnerable. People are out to get Jesus. And at dinner tonight, Jesus announced that he’s about to be killed.

I picture them not only massively confused—didn’t they just shout “Hosanna” and put palm branches down in front of him? But I imagine they were pretty depressed too. I don’t see them just mildly dosing off in the garden. I bet they slept hard, really hard!

Jesus says, “The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Could I have done better? Could any of us done better? I remember something else Jesus said, “With people it is impossible, but with God everything is possible.” The disciples should remind us that in our own power, we can’t even do the things we know we should do, things we may even want to do.

Of course the disciples really didn’t get what was going on either. A lot of people have Peter pegged as a coward. I think he was just really confused. I think he was ready to fight for Jesus, even to die for Jesus. He seemed pretty quick with a sword when the people arrived to arrest Jesus.

But he wasn’t ready to watch Jesus go willingly with them. He got the “Jesus is king” part. He didn’t get the “Jesus dies for sins” part. His blindness to what God was up to left him indecisive and weak in the face of temptation.

Jesus had urged them to pray so that they wouldn’t give in to temptation. But in the dead of night, they did give in to sleep rather than prayer. And of course when the temptation came to deny Jesus, Peter did give in, not just once but three times.

The problem with our fleshly weakness and our spiritual ignorance is that, in a very real sense, we can’t do anything about them directly. Our flesh can’t stay up when it should. And if our thinking is wrong about something, chances are we don’t know it. “Try harder” right now is not only the wrong advice to take from this story—it’s useless advice, at least in the moment of need.

What we have to do is to submit to the power and knowledge of God, and we have to do this long before the moment of crisis. If we had started on the assignment earlier, we wouldn’t have to pull an all nighter. If we had been praying for the power of the Spirit all along, maybe He would have given us the strength to stay up and watch with Jesus, as well as to beat the temptation to deny him. Am I training for the race every day? I won’t finish the marathon—I won’t even make it a mile—if I only start running the night before.

In the gospel stories, Jesus has told his disciples several times that he was going to die. Was I not listening? Or was I only hearing what I wanted to hear, the half truth that Jesus is king but not the other half that told of his death. Am I listening to God, not only to the parts I want to hear but to the parts I don’t want to hear as well? I suspect that, if we were all to quiet down for a minute and listen, we would realize that the other half of the story is already there inside our heads. We’ve just been busying ourselves with other things so we wouldn’t hear it.

We don’t know when the moment of truth will come for us. It probably won’t be in a garden. But the time to address our blindness is now and the time to address our indifference is now. And if we begin to allow the Spirit to change us now, then we will be able to stay awake and pray when the moment for obedience comes.

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