Gethsemane  Watch and pray


Although not designedly so, Gethsemane could be seen as a companion volume to The Silence of God during the Passion, investigating events around the night of Jesus’ arrest as he retires with his disciples to the olive grove apart from the city. The book divides into two parts, the first solely concerned with Gethsemane, the second dealing generally with temptation.

As one might have come to expect it is wonderful to journey through these events with Daniel as he thinks about Jesus, drawing on each of the gospel accounts; these differ in the details, with John being quite brief; Daniel takes Mark as his base text. It is a dark, heavy night, doubly so because of Jesus’ alteration of a text in Zechariah which says ‘the sword will strike the shepherd’ to make it say ‘I [God] will strike the shepherd.’ This is the mystery of the gospel that hangs over the book, one that is too deep and dark for Daniel to approach directly, but meaning that we must pray — watch and pray!

To me, the great strength of Daniel’s writing is the way he brings out both the humanity and divinity of Jesus, so clearly, so distinctly but so unitedly. Here we find Jesus looking for help from his friends — and not finding much; and here is the one place in the gospels where we find Jesus speaking of his own soul — ‘my soul is troubled’; so we have Jesus deeply human. To balance this, we have Jesus apart from his friends, the only One who can and ever will ‘neither slumber nor sleep’ but who watches through the darkest moments. He watches as only the Son of God could — and yet his weak human frame, which enables him to sympathize with those whose ‘spirit is willing’ but whose ‘flesh is weak’, this weak flesh needs to be strengthened by an angel. Alongside Jesus’ steadfastness is our own lamentable weakness, the weakness of the disciples, unable to watch one hour — but happily there is hope because Jesus has overcome for us!

Even when sleep had conquered us all                                                                                                       While we slept, Lord, you said yes.                                                                                                               You said yes for us, for all our human kin,                                                                                                 For this earth that you love, for the feeble beings we are;                                                                       You said yes for all; for all you have given your life;                                                                                 You who alone did not sleep, blessed Lord Jesus.                                                                                     You see us all still, overcome and asleep,                                                                                                   You see us all sleeping, but watch over us yet,                                                                                           Knowing our weakness, knowing our wretchedness,                                                                               The secrets of our nights, the secrets of our lives,                                                                                     Everything open before you as you continue to watch,                                                                           You who neither slumber nor sleep.                                                                                                           Hold us, Lord, hold us, fast in your prayer,                                                                                                 You who alone bear our lives to the Father in secret.                                                                               May your solitary prayer be the blessing of all.


When he turns to his look at temptation, Daniel begins by pointing out that Jesus’ injunction to watch and pray has two settings: Gethsemane and his eschatological address in Luke 21. This means that guarding against temptation is an issue that pervades the whole of Christian life. Daniel begins naturally enough with a close look at Jesus’ Temptation in the wilderness, as well as Job, before moving on to a discussion of the word ‘tempt’, with its twin meanings of entice and test, prove — in any temptation there is both Satan at work and God; we need discernment. Similarly, whenever God speaks we need to be aware that immediately the enemy comes to sow tares, to disrupt, to take advantage of our human nature which is led astray by its own lusts (Jas 1:13). Jesus went through the same process, and models dealing with temptation. It is most interesting that Jesus was ‘driven’ or impelled into the wilderness in just the same way as the Mosaic scapegoat, and that Adam too was ‘driven’ out of Eden; that Jesus is both our scapegoat and the new Adam. There is a way through temptation!

As I read, I think to myself, ‘O, that I would remember and apply all this’!

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