REDISCOVERING THE ANCIENT PATH—Week of August 15, 2021
Be Watchful: Matt. 26:41
We are in Week 28 of our examination of Benedict Nursia’s rules for Christian formation. This week’s passage is found in the midst of one of the most gut-wrenching scenes in all of Scripture: Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. Knowing what he is about to face, Jesus is tortured. In his anguish, he asks Peter, James, and John to watch with him while he prays. Of course, we know the story. When Jesus returns to these 3 disciples who are to be watching with him, he finds them asleep. This week we’ll look at how Jesus’ admonition to Peter is the same admonition he gives to us. This admonition is found in Rules 4.48-49: Be Watchful.
When we consider what it means for us to be watchful, I think it is instructive to remember the context of this passage. Peter has already pledged his undying love and support for Jesus, even though Jesus has predicted that Peter will deny him not once, but three times. In fact, Peter has armed himself with a sword, which he will later use to attack the mob that comes to arrest Jesus. In Peter’s mind he is fully dedicated to loving and serving Jesus, no matter the cost. Yet, as we all know, when Jesus is ultimately arrested and put on trial, all of Peter’s bravado melts away. He does deny Jesus three times, the last time with a curse. Thus, when Jesus is instructing Peter to be watchful, it is not for Jesus’ sake; it is for Peter’s sake. Jesus knows the temptation Peter is about to face, and he knows the soul-crushing guilt Peter will bear in his failure. Even in the midst of his personal anguish, Jesus puts his concern for Peter above himself.
In this story, we see the two-fold equation for resisting temptation. The first is this week’s rule: to be watchful. When you examine the actual phrase in the Greek, it means literally “keep watching.” It is an active, ongoing action. It is really a state of being, which requires diligence on our part. Temptation is always lurking, so we must constantly remain on guard if we are to resist it. Though Peter thought he was prepared for anything that might come, his actions later proved that he was not. Peter was not only sleeping physically; he was sleeping spiritually. And if we’re not watchful, it is easy for the same to happen to us.
The second part of the equation is to be prayerful. If watching reminds us of our personal responsibility for our spiritual well being, being prayerful reminds us that we are ultimately dependent upon the power of God to stand in the face of temptation and live a life worthy of Jesus Christ. Think of it this way: imagine I need to cross a large lake, but all I have access to is a small sailboat with no motor or paddle. There is a brisk wind to power me across the lake, yet I have no access to that power unless and until I step into the boat and raise the sail. Being watchful alerts me to the presence of the boat and the need to jump in. Being prayerful raises the sail to power me through the temptation and to the other side.
Thus, being watchful not only alerts us of our need, but it also alerts us to God’s provision in the midst of that need. God’s word promises us that God is faithful to provide the means of escape when we face temptation (1 Cor. 10:13). The question is, are we even looking for it? Are we being watchful?
- Look back through Matthew 26 and read the context for this verse. Compare the difference between Peter’s attitude and Jesus’ attitude. Now look at the difference between their responses to temptation. What strikes you? Why did Peter fail so miserably and Jesus triumph?
- Consider the interplay between being watchful and prayerful. Why are both important? Why does Jesus consistently request the disciples be watchful first?
- How would you say you are at being watchful? What concrete steps can you take to develop an attitude of watchfulness? What might be holding you back from being spiritually watchful?