“Then cometh Jesus with them unto a place called Gethsemane, and saith unto the disciples, Sit ye here, while I go and pray yonder. And he took with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be sorrowful and very heavy. Then saith he unto them, My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death: tarry ye here, and watch with me. And he went a little further, and fell on his face, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt. And he cometh unto the disciples, and findeth them asleep, and saith unto Peter, What, could ye not watch with me one hour? Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” (Matthew 26.36-41)
Just past 10pm on Friday night my step-father passed away. He had suffered from motor neurones disease for nearly 5 years and so although I had been grieving for his passing for some time the immediate shockwave of grief surprised me. After we began to slowly compose ourselves we started to phone family and friends to inform them of his passing.
During the same time we waited for the doctor to arrive to formally pronounce his passing. We talked and waited, talked and waited. Although the doctor was supposed to arrive within 3 hours of his death I was still sitting next to his bed at 1.30pm. The few days previous had been emotionally and physically draining in ways I do not feel ready to describe and I found myself struggling to keep my eyes open as I sat there with the nurse.
I was surprised at the extent of my own exhaustion. Regardless of how I tried to sit I could feel the heaviness in my eyes and yet I did not want to leave my step-father alone. He deserved to have a family member with him now. As I sat there struggling to stay awake this passage from Matthew came to mind. Surely I could watch with him one more hour? But the more I tried to stay awake the more unable I seemed to demonstrate my faithfulness to him. Even though I was not his son, he had loved me as a father, and yet I could not watch with him for one hour. He had provided the kind of fidelity on which our family had transitioned from dysfunctional to flourishing, but I could not watch with him one hour.
When Jesus returned to his disciples after praying in the garden of Gethsemane he found the disciples sleeping. It has always been too easy to engage in some self-congratulation as I read Jesus’ question to Peter: ‘What, could ye not watch with me one hour?’ In this question I saw the disciples failure to recognise Jesus as Lord, to fully appreciate his mission. But I now know what it is to love someone deeply and still feel unable to watch with them. As I have reflected on this passage since, I have found hope in Jesus’ disappointment in, his sad recognition of, the weakness of the flesh. Here Jesus demonstrates the need to forgive those who hurt us through the weakness of the flesh. To hurt them through our inability to see others and their needs clearly. To fail them through our inability to give more of our time and energy when we have nothing else to give. Jesus moves from disappointment to understand and in tandem transitions from hurt to forgiveness.
Of course, this is a particularly self-serving reading of this passage, but that is what I need right now. I need to hope that my step-father knows that my spirit was indeed willing to watch with him but I also want to feel that he can forgive the weakness of my flesh.