Monday, May 10, 2021

Luke 22:39-46

Luke 22:39–46: Jesus Prays on the Mount of Olives


Luke gives a bit less detail about this event than some of the other Gospels do (see Matthew 26:36–46 and Mark 14:32–42)—all of the Gospel writers pick and choose what to write about and what to skip—but he also gives some detail that the others don’t.

Jesus goes to the Mount of Olives to pray (verse 39 tells us that this was Jesus’ custom), but he does it semi-privately. He tells his disciples to stay behind, instructs them to pray that they not enter into temptation (verse 40), and then goes a ways off by himself to pray to the Father.

As Jesus prays an angel appears to strengthen him, but he is still in “agony,” and “his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground” (verse 44). He then goes back to the disciples and finds them “sleeping for sorrow” (verse 45), so he asks them why they’re sleeping, and tells them again to pray that they not enter into temptation.


Above I mentioned the differing details provided by the different Gospel writers. One obvious difference is that Luke doesn’t bother to mention Jesus going off and praying multiple times, with the disciples falling asleep every time. There’s another difference, however, that’s worth noting: here in Luke, the passage starts like this:

And he came out and 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.” (verses 39–40)

It reads as if Jesus and the disciples arrive at the Mount of Olives, Jesus instructs the disciples to pray lest they fall into temptation, and then he goes off to pray. The passages from Matthew and Mark lay out more detail, however: in those passages they arrive at the mountain, Jesus goes off to pray, the disciples fall asleep, and Jesus comes back and specifically calls out Peter for falling asleep. In the other Gospels, when Jesus gives his warning about falling into temptation, it’s specifically to Peter, and it’s after he (and the other disciples) have already fallen asleep once. I’m guessing the other Gospels put the emphasis on Peter because of his brash claims not long before that he would never abandon Jesus.

But Luke gives some details that Matthew and Mark don’t have, too, including the angel that comes to strengthen Jesus, who isn’t mentioned in the other versions of this story. When I read this I think of the angel providing literal strength for Elijah in 1 Kings 19:1–8 by giving him food; I don’t know if that’s what this angel is doing for Jesus, or if it’s more “moral strength” he’s providing, or what.

Another detail Luke gives that Matthew and Mark don’t give is that phrase, “sleeping for sorrow.”

And when he rose from prayer, he came to the disciples and found them sleeping for sorrow, and he said to them, “Why are you sleeping? Rise and pray that you may not enter into temptation.” (verses 45–46, emphasis added)

It’s not just a matter of laziness; the disciples have had a long, emotional day, and they’re exhausted. That doesn’t mean it’s okay that they keep falling asleep—Jesus clearly calls them out on it—but it is some context for us who are reading these passages. It also leads me to think that, when Jesus tells them to pray not to fall into temptation, he’s not just talking about praying with him, it’s for what’s about to come. As he is still speaking to them his betrayers show up, which we’ll see in the next passage.

In fact, I’ve always read Jesus’ admonition not to enter into temptation as an admonition not to fall asleep, but I think I’ve got it backwards. Jesus isn’t telling his disciples “don’t fall asleep,” per se, he’s telling them, “things are about to happen that you should be praying about, which is more important than sleep right now.” He’s not telling them, “you need to be awake,” he’s telling them, “you need to be praying right now!” Which makes it even more interesting that Matthew and Mark mention him specifically calling out Peter to be praying—Peter who’s about to betray him.

(I should hasten to point out: the differing levels of detail don’t mean that Luke disagrees with the other passages, it’s just different levels of detail. You could describe this story as “the time that Jesus went to pray and his disciples fell asleep,” or you could describe it as “the time that Jesus went to pray and his disciples fell asleep so he told them to pray and then went off again but they fell asleep again anyway and he came back and told them to pray again and went off again and they fell asleep again, and he came back a third time and told them once more to pray but it was kind of too late because the mob was showing up.” Both are accurate; one gives more detail.)

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