This story is so disappointing to read. We ask why these, the first disciples chosen and the ones Jesus now chooses “to be with him” in his hour of greatest agony, fail him so miserably (3:14). Was it so late that their bedtimes were long passed? Was the evening’s dinner so rich they grew drowsy? Was Jesus gone for a much longer period than this short report suggests? All this is hidden in mystery—like the mystery of why we also sometimes fail those who deserve better.
But to me another mystery lurks in this sad story. Where did it originate? Who was the observer who reported it? The disciples were all asleep and the moment they awoke Jesus was taken from them. So, where did the story of Jesus’ anguished prayer in the garden originate? Where did this tale of the Big Three’s colossal failure come from?
I realize I’m dancing on ice here, but since I’m already here let me wonder if, perhaps, this is something Jesus told his disciples after his resurrection and before his ascension. If that’s plausible, then the question becomes why he would have told them this shameful story of what happened in Gethsemane.
My answer is that Jesus reported this as a final word about amazing grace. Though his closest companions, the best-known leaders of the infant church, failed him in the final hour, Jesus did not fail them. His mercy was greater than their sin. Standing on earth’s far rim, the resurrected Jesus told them their hope was not in their fidelity but in his.
In every age the church needs this reminder. Though we often fail Jesus, he is not done with us. He dies for us, he lives for us, he comes to us, he uses us for his good purposes. His Spirit is able, even when our flesh is weak.
If you were Peter, James, or John, how would you feel when the resurrected Jesus told you this story?
Jesus, keep me ever mindful that whatever good may come from my life has its origin and sustenance solely in you. Amen.