“Watch and Pray that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.”
- Matt 26:41
This is what Jesus told his disciples after their Passover meal, full of rich food and plenty of wine. When they had gone out of the city of Jerusalem and into the hilly woods where they usually slept when they were visiting this city. For Jesus’ followers, it was the end of a happy evening, a time to retire to bed. They were already nodding off when he spoke. To Jesus, it was his last few hours of freedom, he knew to be followed by horrible terrors and then death. He asked them to watch with him, stay awake with him while he struggled in prayer. He wanted their company, their support.
“Watch and Pray” is the command of God. We the people of God are like the disciples: not really interested in either one. After a good meal, and more than a little wine (holy meal, holy wine, given to us by the Lord himself), basically we just want to rest in a blissful sleep.
The reality is, despite our happy feelings and desire for rest, this world is not our home and in fact disaster is coming like a freight train without breaks. With us resting in the middle of the tracks. And so Christ calls: “watch and pray.”
It is natural to sleep. Mentally healthy. Attractive. Balanced. It would only make sense to watch and pray if there were something more. Something more than is seen, is measured, is known. Only then would it be not only reasonable, but in fact necessary.
Jesus does not advocate neurosis. He is not saying to us that our goal is nervousness and irritability. Religious efforts often seem this way, and in fact often are. For our own efforts at seeking God, separated from us by too great a distance for our own abilities to overcome, can only be an agitated and pointless scratching. A swinging at the air and a speaking to shadows.
Jesus is our only hope in this matter. Of all people, he alone had no wasted words, no lost actions. What he said had authority (and has authority). When he spoke, the lame walked, the blind saw, the dead were raised.
And what Jesus said to his followers and to us, he said that we might know him. Know the person of Christ. Know him in complete salvation, a knowledge beyond knowledge.
The rest of the story is that every one of the disciples fell asleep. And that more than once. Their watching, their praying was obviously inadequate. They did not save Jesus from death. And they did not resist the temptation to disown him one by one. And yet Jesus, the one forsaken by all, in the power of God and not of man, rose from the dead. Showed himself completely able to do all of the work needed to save all of us. And in the fulfillment of his task, Jesus in his mercy used his disciples. Before, during, and after his death and resurrection he allowed them to be part of his glorious work. Despite and even through their failures. It was as if that was exactly where he wanted them, at the end of themselves that they might look up and see him. They thought they were assistants, but their work was ultimately to become witnesses.
Rest in this. Accept it. Know that Jesus can save you. Know Jesus calls you also. Calls you to follow him. Calls you to listen to his words. Calls you to be in community with others who are also following him. And calls you too to watch. And to pray. And most of all calls you to witness what God is doing.