Image credit: Kira Porotikova (@ms_k61) and Unsplash

WHEN REFLECTING on the Good Friday narrative, I’m always drawn back to the accounts of Gethsemane.

Understandably, Christian tradition has made a massive deal of the prayer Jesus taught his disciples during his ministry. But, perhaps oddly, his prayers in Gethsemane don’t get anywhere near as much attention. And yet, there, in those garden vignettes, Jesus appears to give his disciples a clear practical insight into parts of the prayer that he’d previously taught them.

By this point, the synoptic accounts describe Jesus as being distraught. Some versions of Luke include the foreshadowing detail that he was sweating so much that it was like big drops of blood were pouring off him. He shouts out in prayer: “Please find another way, I don’t want to do this, I don’t know if I can do this… But your will, not mine, be done on earth”.

He then returns to his friends and finds them not keeping lookout as he’d asked, but snoozing after their lamb and wine supper. Waking them he tells them that now is the time they really should be praying “leads us not to trial”. I much prefer that translation to ‘into temptation’, because although there is temptation to be avoided here – the temptation to run away or back down from what’s coming – that word tends to evoke for us very different images: the urge to reach for that extra slice of cake, or to cheat someone, or lie our way out of a sticky situation. What it doesn’t bring to mind so readily is a plea to be able to continue being subversive towards the state without yet having to be confronted full-on by its violence.

When Jesus adds “the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak”, I don’t think he’s making a comment about his friends so much as talking about himself. He knows by this point that his encounter with the imperial authorities is inevitable and, because of the way he has pissed off the rulers of the Temple, that his trial is really only going to go one way.

His spirit is willing that God’s will be done on earth, but his flesh is weak and wanting a way out. He’s warning his followers that they should be aware that talk is cheap but it isn’t so easy to stand firm when you have real skin in the game.

If I’m worried and praying about this, you should be too, he tells his friends. But their ignorance is bliss and they doze back off.

I wonder how often when those of us who pray ‘the Lord’s Prayer’ regularly say “lead us not into temptation” (or preferably) “to a (time of) trial” we’re effectively dozing rather than preparing ourselves for when opposition to evil will divide our willing spirits from our weak flesh, and asking for just a bit more time.


© Jon Morgan is an Associate Research Fellow and a member of the Centre for Biblical Studies at the University of Exeter, and a Visiting Research Fellow at the University of Chester. He has been Lecturer in Hebrew Bible at the University of Exeter, Lecturer in Biblical Interpretation at the University of Chester, and Coordinator of the Centre for Theology, Imagination, and Culture at Sarum College.