Gethsemane: The sleepers
1. At the beginning of the section Jesus tells the majority of the disciples simply to sit and wait while Jesus prayed. Then he tells the three to simply “stay away (with me)” Then Jesus goes further to pray alone. When he comes back he requests that they stay awake and pray, but not for Jesus but rather for them. Why are they to stay awake? To watch for what? To pray for what?
2. The “time of trial” should be connected with the previous section (Mk 14:27-31) and the “stumbling” What would it mean for them not to stumble? Are they to pray that something not happen that Jesus just a bit before told them it would happen?
3. The “finding” them “sleeping” very strongly echoes Mark 13:32-37. How might this connect with the language of the hour and the cup? Does it mean more than just staying physically awake? Is it a word for us as well?
4. We should talk about “spirit and flesh”. One of the ways we might be immediately tempted to understand these two terms would be gnostic. “Spirit” is good, “flesh” is bad. That is not a Biblical position. Another way would be to see them in terms of Paul’s discussions about “spirit” and “flesh”. I think filling these terms here with a full Pauline perspective on them would likely distort Jesus’ meaning at this point. Raymond Brown treats it this way. “For the OT and most intertestamental Judaism, spirit and flesh are not part of the human being like souls and body, but the whole human being considered under two different aspects. “Spirit” could be used of God and angels and of human beings –but of the latter in theri higher functions such as feeling, thinking and willing. “Flesh” applies to human beings and animals, and represents people in their tangible, perishable, and earthly aspects. In the OT “flesh” connotes weakness but not sinfulness.”
“Flesh” is a realm in which Satan is strong. Again, we’re not saying “flesh” is evil, it is good, it is just that Satan is strong and takes advantage in this realm of our vulnerabilities. Jesus deals with the weakness of his own flesh by prayer. Also see Hebrews 5:7. He is also concerned with the weakness of his disciples. By saying “the spirit is willing but the flesh weak” Jesus extends grace and understanding to his disciples. He knows what they suffer because he is like them. See Hebrews 4:15, 16.
5. The disciples could not stay awake for “their eyes were heavy”. The word only appears once in the NT. In other Greek it was used as weigh down, burden, oppressed or “make someone’s life hard”. Mark alone says “they did not know what to say”. See Mark 9:2-6.
6. He now comes a third time to his disciples and finds them sleeping. See the different translations of Mark 14:41. The verbs are in imperatives making it difficult to understand exactly what is going on. Is Jesus being ironic? Is he castigating them?
7. The hour, the time of trial, has now come and the Son of Man will be turned over into the hands of sinners. See Daniel 7:13,14. What is the point?