In today’s Gospel we follow Jesus Christ as He moves closer to His passion. We see Him wrestling with His calling in prayer, and then being betrayed, arrested, and accused. And we also see the disciples who followed Him. They could not stay awake to pray with Him, misunderstood Him and tried to defend Him only to be rebuked, and the Apostle Peter denied Him three times. In short, they show themselves to be weak, misunderstanding, and fearful – hardly the sort of people God would choose to change the world.
As we approach Great Lent, we will also be confronted by our own weaknesses and by the dividedness of our own hearts. It is relatively easy to commit ourselves to following Jesus Christ when our lives are comfortable. But one of the aims of fasting and the extra Lenten services is to bring us up against our own limitations and weaknesses. We may have an image of ourselves as strong and committed, and think that we will do anything for God. But when we start to feel the fasting in our bodies, or become tired during the long services, then we start to discover new things about ourselves and our reactions.
And this is precisely the intention of the fast. Its purpose is not for us to show how strong we are, but rather for us to learn our own weakness and our need of God. It is to bring us to a place of repentance so that, like the Apostle Peter, we may truly weep before God, knowing that our salvation does not come from ourselves but from Him.
Peter grieved and wept because he went astray as a man. I do not learn why he spoke, but I learn that he wept. I read of his tears, but I do not read of his explanation. What cannot be defended can be purged. Tears may wash away the offense that is a shame to confess aloud. Tears deal with pardon and shame. Tears speak of guilt without fear and confess sin without the obstacle of shame. Tears do not demand pardon and deserve it. I learn why Peter was silent, lest a swift petition for pardon might offend even more. First he must weep, then he must pray.
Saint Ambrose of Milan
The Holy Gospel according to Saint Luke 22:39-42, 45-71; 23:1:
At that time, when Jesus came out, he went, as was his custom, to the Mount of Olives; and the disciples followed him. And when he came to the place he said to them, “Pray that you may not enter into temptation.” And he withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, and knelt down and prayed, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me; nevertheless not my will, but yours, be done.” And when he rose from prayer, he came to the disciples and found them sleeping for sorrow, and he said to them, “Why do you sleep? Rise and pray that you may not enter into temptation.”
While he was still speaking, there came a crowd, and the man called Judas, one of the twelve, was leading them. He drew near to Jesus to kiss him; but Jesus said to him, “Judas, would you betray the Son of man with a kiss?” And when those who were about him saw what would follow, they said, “Lord, shall we strike with the sword?” And one of them struck the slave of the high priest and cut off his right ear. But Jesus said, “No more of this!” And he touched his ear and healed him. Then Jesus said to the chief priests and officers of the temple and elders, who had come out against him, “Have you come out as against a robber, with swords and clubs? When I was with you day after day in the temple, you did not lay hands on me. But this is your hour, and the power of darkness.”
Then they seized him and led him away, bringing him into the high priest’s house. Peter followed at a distance; and when they had kindled a fire in the middle of the courtyard and sat down together, Peter sat among them. Then a maid, seeing him as he sat in the light and gazing at him, said, “This man also was with him.” But he denied it, saying “Woman, I do not know him.” And a little later someone else saw him and said, “You also are one of them.” But Peter said, “Man, I am not.” And after an interval of about an hour still another insisted, saying, “Certainly this man also was with him; for he is a Galilean.” But Peter said, “Man, I do not know what you are saying.” And immediately, while he was still speaking, the cock crowed. And the Lord turned and looked at Peter. And Peter remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said to him, “Before the cock crows today, you will deny me three times.” And he went out and wept bitterly.
Now the men who were holding Jesus mocked him and beat him; they also blindfolded him and asked him, “Prophesy! Who is it that struck you?” And they spoke many other words against him, reviling him.
When day came, the assembly of the elders of the people gathered together, both chief priests and scribes; and they led him away to their council, and they said, “If you are the Christ, tell us.” But he said to them, “If I tell you, you will not believe; and if I ask you, you will not answer. But from now on the Son of man shall be seated at the right hand of the power of God.” And they all said, “Are you the Son of God, then?” And he said to them, “You say that I am.” And they said, “What further testimony do we need? We have heard it ourselves from his own lips.”
Then the whole company of them arose, and brought him before Pilate.