In past years on the blog, I have generally published the schedule of the Lord’s final week according to the Scriptures (on the Monday of Holy Week). Since I have done this in years past, I presume most of you have seen it by now. If you haven’t, you can read it here: A Chronology of Jesus’ Holy Week
For this year, I thought I might look at some of the moments in the Passion Narrative (this year from St. Matthew) and highlight them.
The first moment occurs in the Garden of Gethsemane and presents a very good stance for Holy Week, indeed for the whole of our life. Jesus was at prayer, and returning to his disciples found them asleep. He says to Peter and the others (and to us),
Watch and pray so that you may not undergo the test. The spirit is indeed willing but the flesh is weak. (Matt 26:41)
Let’s examine the saying, and explore what it has to say for us, and to us.
I. Problem – Jesus comes to his disciples and finds them sleeping. Note that these are the leaders of the Church, and this is the most crucial moment in all of human history. A great showdown between light and darkness, between good and evil, between Satan and the Lord, is about to unfold, is unfolding! But the disciples, the first leaders of the Church, are sleeping.
It is a disgraceful reality that is too often still the case, even today. And lest you think that this is simply a way of bashing popes, bishops, priests and deacons, let it be clear that the leaders of the Church include parents in families and elders in communities as well.
Regarding the clergy, too often while our people are undergoing severe trials and exposure to terrible sin and error, we remain sleepy and quiet. Well does the Scripture describe many of us clergy when it says, Israel’s watchman are blind, the lack knowledge; they are mute dogs, they cannot bark; they lie around and dream, they love to sleep. (Is 56:10)
But many parents too, the leaders of the domestic church, are also woefully out of touch with the struggles of their children. They have little idea what their children are actually watching or listening to; they seem to have other priorities than to monitor their children carefully and teach them with clarity.
Yes, for all of us Church leaders, at the parish level and at the domestic level, we too easily doze off, and dream away, seemingly unaware of the great cosmic battle that is going on all around us, claiming our people and our children.
Or perhaps we do have some sense of the awful battle, but know little about what to do. Overwhelmed and stressed out, we medicate ourselves. Perhaps like the disciples we drink some wine and doze off in the garden while the critical battle unfolds around us. We are overwhelmed, so we tune out; we veer off to diversions, watch fantasies on television, or lose ourselves in virtual Internet relationships while our real relationships languish. Reality is too painful, so we medicate ourselves, and go off to sleep, a spiritual sleep, a moral sleep, even a physical sleep.
Only the pure mercy of God can save us. If the Church or the world were depending on human leaders, we’d be doomed. If the Church were solely dependent on human beings to keep her together, she would’ve lasted 20 minutes, max! Yes, only the pure mercy of God can see us through. Without Jesus awake and sober in the garden, we’re surely lost.
Yes, a serious problem is described here: while the cosmic battle between good and evil unfolds all around us, too many of us are asleep. And while God’s mercy can help close the gap, we must be willing to do what Jesus commands, what he now prescribes.
II. Prescription – Jesus says, Watch and pray! That is to say, “Wake up; come to your right mind; be sober!” To be sober is to have a clear mind, a mind that is aware of what is going on, and that can clearly identify the signs of the times. The sober mind is able to identify the tactics of the enemy, the drives of sin, and know their moves. The sober mind is also in touch with the remedies of Grace and how to apply them prudently. We simply have got to watch and pray!
In particular, our prayer needs to be rooted in the Scriptures and the revealed truth of Jesus Christ. There’s just too much stinking thinking in our world today to think that our mind is going to be anything but polluted if we don’t cleanse it every day with the Word of God.
Our minds are like a sponge. Put a sponge in muddy water and, don’t kid yourself, the sponge is going to come out muddy. How then is the muddy sponge to be cleansed? It is plunged into clean water and rung out; it is plunged back into the clean water and rung out again, and again, and again. Thus our minds, like sponges muddied by the polluted, confusing, and erroneous thinking of the world, must be cleansed daily by being plunged into the clear, clean water of God’s Holy Word.
It is a sobering fact that if you and I are not praying daily and being deeply rooted in God’s Word, it is very unlikely that we will make it.
The Lord’s prescription is bluntly simple: wake up, and keep watch by praying! We somehow find time for everything else. It’s time to wake up and keep our eyes focused on the Lord, to watch him, to listen to him, and to be deeply rooted in the relationship of prayer and obedience to his Word. Otherwise, a terrible peril is upon us which the Lord next describes.
III. Peril – We are told to watch and pray lest we undergo the test, lest we give way to temptation. The Greek word for temptation here is πειρασμόν (peirasmon) and almost sounds like the English word “peril.”
Now don’t let temptation become something abstract. Temptation is the work of Satan to drag you to Hell. Are you clear on that? If you’re not watching and praying, you’re defenseless; you’re an easy target; you’re low hanging fruit; you’re probably not going to make it. If you do not pray, Jesus warns that you will give way to temptation, that is, that Satan will be able to drag you off to Hell, and probably others along with you.
If you don’t even care enough about yourself to pray, at least get right for the sake of others who are probably depending on you in some way for teaching and example! No priest goes to Hell alone; he takes others with him. And no parents go to Hell alone; they take others with them.
It’s time to wake up and recognize the peril. You will give way to temptation if you’re not even going to watch and pray. Satan can and will drive you to Hell. This peril is real. If you don’t think so, talk to Jesus. He said it, I didn’t.
IV. Prevailing priority – Jesus goes on to say, The spirit is indeed willing, but the flesh is weak.
Sadly, most of us interpret this saying as an excuse, as if Jesus were permitting us to say, “Well, deep in my heart I really want to do what’s right, but I’m really not able to do it because of my weak flesh. So it’s really not my fault. I should get credit for having good intentions in my heart.”
This is not only an incorrect interpretation of what Jesus says here; it is a sinful interpretation. Jesus is not saying that our flesh excuses us. He’s saying that our spirit is willing, that our Spirit by his grace has the capacity to prevail over the weakness of the flesh!
We are going to have to battle against our flesh; that is true; that much is clear. But our spirit, the part of us that is open to God, has the capacity to prevail, if we will permit God’s Holy Spirit to strengthen our human spirit.
In other words, our spirit is to be our number one priority, over and against our flesh. And having this priority, we open our spirit to God’s Holy Spirit, and we will be strengthened. We will prevail over temptation; we will be victorious over Satan’s attempts to drag us to Hell.
Therefore, there should be no excuses here. Jesus says that although the flesh is weak, and we will battle against it until the day we die, our spirit can “will” to overpower the drives of our flesh; our spirit can and must have a priority that will empower us to prevail over the flesh, and any incursions of the evil one.
We must make a decision; our spirit must be willing to watch and pray. We cannot allow the emphasis to fall on the weakness of the flesh. The emphasis must always fall on the prevailing power and priority of the human spirit to be graced by God’s Holy Spirit to win the victory.
Not a bad prescription for life and for Holy Week too!
:Watch and pray that you not enter into temptation. The indeed spirit is willing but the flesh is weak. (Matt 2:41)
- γρηγορεῖτε καὶ προσεύχεσθε, ἵνα μὴ εἰσέλθητε εἰς πειρασμόν τὸ μὲν πνεῦμα πρόθυμον, ἡ δὲ σὰρξ ἀσθενής. (Matt 2:41)
- grēgoreite kai proseuchesthe hina mē eiselthēte eis peirasmon to men pneuma prothymon hē de sarx asthenēs (Matt 2:41)
Fr. Francis Martin has been a great teacher of mine. He here comments on the text of Mat 26:41.