bible blog 1132

This blog offers a meditation on the Common Lectionary daily readings along with a headline from world news:


Syrian refugees in Beirut

Syrian refugees in Beirut

Mark 14:27-42

New English Translation (NET)

The Prediction of Peter’s Denial

27 Then Jesus said to them, “You will all fall away, for it is written,

I will strike the shepherd,
and the sheep will be scattered.’

28 But after I am raised, I will go ahead of you into Galilee.” 29 Peter said to him, “Even if they all fall away, I will not!” 30 Jesus said to him, “I tell you the truth, today—this very night—before a rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times.” 31 But Peter insisted emphatically, “Even if I must die with you, I will never deny you.” And all of them said the same thing.


32 Then they went to a place called Gethsemane, and Jesus said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” 33 He took Peter, James, and John with him, and became very troubled and distressed. 34 He said to them, “My soul is deeply grieved, even to the point of death. Remain here and stay alert.” 35 Going a little farther, he threw himself to the ground and prayed that if it were possible the hour would pass from him. 36 He said, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Take this cup away from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” 37 Then he came and found them sleeping, and said to Peter, “Simon, are you sleeping? Couldn’t you stay awake for one hour? 38 Stay awake and pray that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” 39 He went away again and prayed the same thing. 40 When he came again he found them sleeping; they could not keep their eyes open. And they did not know what to tell him. 41 He came a third time and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting? Enough of that! The hour has come. Look, the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. 42 Get up, let us go. Look! My betrayer is approaching!

Mark’s gospel is the most unsparing about the disciples of Jesus. There are many stories in the world which show the followers of a great leader in a better light than the gospel shows these disciples. Peter remains over-confident and lacking in self-knowledge. The others behave like frightened sheep, as Jesus predicts. The gospel is not a conventional success story: its hero does not win; his cause is not triumphant; hos followers are not loyal; his God does not save. Even the hero himself has moments of fear. Indeed he asks to be spared the suffering which lies before him. His courage is not that he has no fear but that he withstands it. gethsemane2

Mark wants to show that the secret of faith is readiness to follow Jesus into the darkness, trusting in the one he calls Abba, dear father. That which comes to human beings as the ultimate nothingness, Jesus calls father. We should see in the story of Gethsemane the meaning of the final petition of the Lord’s prayer: “Do not bring us to harsh testing but deliver us from the Evil One.”

“The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak,” Jesus says, giving hope to all whose flesh shrinks from serious sacrifice. The spirit is wiling to help this homeless man but the flesh reminds us how long it will take to find him a refuge; the spirit is ready to give serious money to Save the Children but the flesh tells us we’d promised ourselves a trip to France; the spirit is willing to stand up for this victim of prejudice but the flesh suggests it will make us unpopular. 

The weariness of the disciples is not just natural but the “sleep of death” cast ahead of itself by the power of evil, so that good people do nothing while evil has its way. Jesus’ injunction to stay awake and pray is relevant to all circumstances in which evil may be done. Any casual reliance on human capacity is likely to fail. In the Syrian crisis Christian believers should ask why, when nation states have forces of violence, the Church has no forces of non-violence. 

The three betrayals prophesied for Peter and the three times Jesus finds the disciples sleeping foreshadow the three days of Jesus’ death, before he is raised. In John’s gospel this sequence is completed by the three times the risen Jesus asks Peter, “Do you love me?”

Again it’s evident how the simple narrative of the gospel contains matters of great depth and complexity.

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