Jesus Asks: Could you not Keep Watch?

Then he said to them, "My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me." Matthew 26:36 Most of us don’t ever think of Jesus being overwhelmed. I wonder why that is? Jesus describes his very human response to being in a critical moment: “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.” Most of us never think of Jesus being overwhelmed, because most of us have grown up with an image of Jesus as a man who had it all together. Confident. Always the right word, always knew just what to do – whether it was placing a little child in front of him to teach his disciples something about the kingdom of God or clearing out the temple in violent protest of the abuses of the House of God. We have a difficult time picturing Jesus anything other than just having it all together. But here it is: Jesus says he is overwhelmed. I wonder why most of us never think of Jesus being overwhelmed?

Here’s what I think…most of us never think of Jesus being overwhelmed, because most of us are overwhelmed in our life about the wrong things.

Now, I want to be careful: People struggle with cancer – that’s overwhelming. People deal with the loss of a loved one – that’s overwhelming. People wrestle with things like clinical depression and a host of other things – that can be overwhelming especially without some help. But think about it for a minute. Why do most people feel overwhelmed most of the time? The load at work… School work due and research needing to be done… Children that need to be raised… One thing that occupies much of our time is relationships, and all their many dynamics. Seems like we cannot go a day without thinking about some aspect of our relationships. Money.

Most of us are overwhelmed by things that would never have overwhelmed Jesus. And so, it’s hard for us to picture Jesus ever being overwhelmed, because we’re mostly overwhelmed by the wrong things. The fact of the matter is, and this is a difficult thing to say because we are all dealing with lots, we could use a healthy dose of perspective, a clearer sense of what is ultimately important…

This summer we took a family vacation - I, my wife and four kids, 15 down to 7. Believe it or not, it was really a wonderful time! One of the reasons it was so great is because we totally disconnected – no cell phones and no email, no Facebook and no Twitter.  And I regained something. I regained a sense of how enjoyable my children are to me. I went into that time about ready to wring their freakin necks (if you're not a parent, you won't understand that).  We talked and listened to each other for long periods of time – and I regained something;  they’re just, you know, really great kids...I had forgotten that in the midst of pulling out my hair on a daily basis!! Sometimes we need a healthy dose of perspective to re-set ourselves to what is most important in our lives with each other – but also, I think, what is most important with a loving God who is out for our very best, all the time.

In the context of himself being overwhelmed, Jesus asks his disciples (and us) a question that re-sets us to a new perspective, I think.  He asks: “Could you not keep watch with me for one hour?” The question is a rather sharp one, comes with a little edge. Peter, James and John had fallen asleep at a critical moment in the Garden of Gethsemane, in the last hours of Jesus’ life, and there Jesus is waking them up with the question, “Couldn’t you keep watch with me for one hour?”

We could all use, to some degree, a healthy dose of perspective, a clearer sense of what is ultimately important, couldn’t we? Because most of us, most of the time, are overwhelmed by the wrong things. So, let’s get a little perspective on this moment in the life of Jesus that has overwhelmed him and that sets the context for this question that Jesus asks.

A lot has happened in a rather short period of time. And by a lot, I mean a lot of BIG things, huge, earth-changing, ultimate things. The ultimate forces of evil have set in the minds of the religious leaders a plot to kill Jesus, to kill God in the flesh, to kill the One they have been waiting for, for as long as anyone can remember. How could things get so twisted and backwards? But sometimes they do. The ultimate forces of evil are set to kill the ultimate One came to love the world and save us from the worst of ourselves. Jesus has only recently said as much in word and in deed in the Upper Room with his disciples when he took a loaf of bread and broke it and said this is my body broken for you – my body given so that you may have life.

A lot has happened in a short period of time. Judas the Betrayer has solidified his betrayal by agreeing to single Jesus out for arrest that will lead to crucifixion and death and eventually resurrection. And now that the Supper is finished and the moment of arrest is soon upon him, Jesus leads his disciples out near to the Mount of Olives, to a garden called Gethsemane to pray, to pull an all-nighter, to be watchful and ready…because it’s all about to come down and come down hard.

And as they enter into the garden, he separates Peter, James and John from the other disciples – something Jesus did at times – and said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.” Be diligent and aware. Watch well, for evil is upon us and ready to overrun us. And Jesus goes off to pray alone and he asks his heavenly Father as authentic a question as he could ask – “Please, Father, let this cup pass from me…”, by which Jesus meant that if it was at all possible that he be released from his ultimate purpose of giving his life in agony for the sins of the world, that he be released from having to love so much, so deeply, and so completely. “Please let this cup pass from me.” Jesus prays. “Yet not as I will, but as you will.”

Jesus has reached a critical moment.

That’s the struggle, isn’t it? “Please let this cup pass from me; yet not as I will, but as you will.” Promises made to God to do whatever God asks, to go where God leads, to embrace a vision that God lays out before us. And yet we come to those critical moments, moments that often make or break us, make or break the ultimate promises we’ve made – at the very least in our baptisms. And in this world, those moments are incredibly difficult and often beyond anything that we ever expected or imagined…that’s in part what makes them so difficult.  Jesus clearly sees himself in such a moment.  The disciples are clearly themselves in such a moment – though they may not see that so clearly.  And I’m guessing that each of us finds ourselves in moments where our ultimate commitments to Jesus are put to the ultimate test.

And in those moments, Jesus calls us to “Stay here and keep watch with me.”  So…Let me just ask...How are you doing?

You see, what’s behind Jesus’ question, “Could you not keep watch with me for one hour?” is the simply question that each of us has to ask honestly and answer as authentically as we possibly can, “How am I doing?”

I believe people are watching, and people are witnessing the followers of Jesus living their faith and people are desperately wanting to see them fulfill the promises they’ve made to follow Jesus no matter what.  Watching the followers of Jesus to see if they will take hold of the proverbial Cup and drink… Watching the followers of Jesus to see if they too are willing to let it be about God’s will and not their own… Watching to see if they are also willing to love so much, so deeply, and so completely that they are willing even to give their lives.

Jesus says to the disciples: “The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak."  That statement by Jesus, I believe, is a moment of compassion for his disciples (and us).  Jesus understands our weaknesses, because he was also weak… He was also on the edge of not being able to go through with what God has called him to do.  And yet he will.  And in the authority and power of his resurrection, he still calls us to do likewise when our times come.

This question Jesus asks us should take Christians, at least, in a specific direction, a direction that will gift us with regaining something.  It should take us to reflect on the ultimate commitments that we have made in our baptisms. In our baptisms we declared our allegiance to Jesus.

Recently, a group gathered at our home for supper on a Friday night  and had a delightful time talking about their upcoming baptisms on Sunday.  One of the things that was expressed was:  That once baptized there was the worry and fear that those being baptized would not be perfect. I thought it was a great thing to bring up for a person going into her baptism.  We talked about that for a while.  None of us are perfect, we said.  None of us will always get it right.  All of us will have seasons when we do well, and seasons when we don’t.  And if anyone understands that, certainly it would be Jesus.

But part of the thing I wanted them to know is that we Christians are truly part of a community called the Church that helps us do the best we can, that helps us to get what we believe right, that helps us to remain people of integrity to what we have promised God we would be.

So, I invite you to remember our own baptism.  For some, that might have come when you were an infant and was followed up by confirmation classes.  For some, your baptism was a conscious decision that involved a willing movement toward God in faith that Jesus is the Son of the Living God.  For some, you were baptized by immersion.  For others, you were sprinkled.  It may have happened in a river, or a church, or at the baptismal font.  But however it happened, remember your baptism.  Remember who you promise God you would be.

For, whatever you are dealing with, wherever you are in your walk with God, whatever past has defined you, whatever present rules over you, whatever future vies for your attention, whatever idols seek your allegiance, you are ultimately most real and most completely you, most true to the image of God, your Creator, in baptism.

By Michael Dunn