Watch and Pray (Mark 14)
Thursday of Holy Week
Poor Peter. One minute he promises that, no matter what happens, Jesus can count on him. Others might fall away; he, like his nickname, would be a “Rock” for Jesus.
The next minute he is sleeping when he should have been praying. Jesus was in the middle of the greatest temptation of his life. He had asked Peter and a few others to pray with him. With the best of intentions, they began to pray, but found themselves fast asleep.
Jesus, waking them up said, “Could you not watch one hour? Watch and pray that you may not enter temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.”
Notice what Jesus said: “Pray that you may not enter temptation.” Though he had asked his friends to pray for him, he now tells them to be praying for themselves. Jesus’ prayer prepared him to face soldiers in the night; Peter’s lack of prayer left him unprepared to face the servant girl by the fire.
When the moment of truth came, Peter panicked. With the rest of the disciples, he fled the scene. Others had fallen away and Peter, despite his prediction, fell away too.
Later, eager to know how Jesus was doing, he found himself in the high priest’s courtyard. The story is well known. Three times he was asked if he knew Jesus; three times he denied it – each time more vehemently than the past. When the rooster crowed and Peter remembered Jesus’ words, Peter was heartbroken. “He broke down and wept.”
As we journey to the cross this week, we can’t help but identify with Peter. We know what it is like to let Jesus down, to panic under pressure; perhaps we know what it is like to deny him altogether. We know what it is like to intend to pray, but to find ourselves falling asleep instead. Like Peter, our spirit is willing, but our flesh is weak.
In stark contrast to this is the picture Mark paints of Jesus. Whereas Peter gave up his integrity in order to save his life, Jesus retained his integrity at the cost of his life. Having prepared his heart through prayer, he was able to stay strong even to the point of death.
We’d all like to be heroes in the moment of trial. But unless we have prepared ourselves ahead of time, we are more likely to panic. That’s what the disciples did. Peter’s bravado turned into bitterness.
However, despite his dramatic failure, Peter was reinstated as one of Jesus’ disciples. We would have to explore John’s gospel to learn more about that. For now, we simply see Peter as a cautionary tale. Cultivating a lifetime of simple obedience and humble prayer is the best way to be prepared when the hour of trial comes.
Best of all: When we fail — and we will — we can be grateful that Jesus did not fail. Because Jesus “drank the cup” on Calvary, every one of us – even Peter – can find hope and forgiveness as we entrust ourselves to Jesus.
So let us watch and pray, that we do not enter temptation. And let us cast ourselves on Jesus, who drank our cup of judgment so that we could receive grace and forgiveness.
“Lord Jesus, thank you that you drank the cup of death so I could drink from the waters of life. Help me to cultivate the habits of prayer and obedience, so that when I face times of trial I will find that I am prepared to say, and mean, ’Not my will, but thine be done”.