(Read Mark 13:32-37 and Isaiah 40: 28-31)
One of the saddest moments in Jesus’ life, for me anyway, is in the Garden of Gethsemane, especially how the story is related by Matthew. After dinner in the upper room, which is when Jesus institutes the Lord’s Supper as something his followers should do to remember him, Jesus and his disciples go to the Mount of Olives on the east side of Jerusalem so that he can pray. Jesus says to the disciples, “I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and stay awake with me” (Matthew 26:38). In this moment, we know that Jesus is afraid about what’s going to happen to him, and he’s saying to his best friends, “Be here with me.” He doesn’t want to be alone.
Then, he moves a stone’s throw away and prays to God, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want but what you want” (Matthew 26:39).
And then this is what I find so sad, heart-breaking really, is that after praying that prayer, basically asking God to make it so that he won’t die, so that he won’t be persecuted and executed, Jesus goes back to be with his friends, and he finds them all sleeping. He says to Peter, “Could you not stay awake with me one hour? Stay awake and pray that you may not come into the time of trial [and I think what he means by time of trial, which can also be translated as ‘temptation,’ is a time when you want the opposite of what is happening. Jesus wants things to be different than they are]; [Jesus says,] the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matthew 26: 40).
I don’t know if the disciples were really sleeping. They might just have been out of it, not there, not with him, not present. It was probably more than they could handle so they checked out.
Do you know what I am talking about? When a situation is so intense that your mind disassociates? When life feels so overwhelming that you feel the need to escape or to run away?
I don’t blame the disciples for “sleeping,” but I do feel bad for Jesus.
Life can be very difficult. Life can be very challenging. And when that’s the case, it is important that we rest. We need to give ourselves the time and space that we need so that we can heal, recover, and rejuvenate. It is important for us to rest when our bodies tell us we need to rest.
But once we are rested, it’s time to wake up. “Stay awake,” Jesus says to the disciples, and so he says it to us. “Stay Awake.” We have to stay awake because God needs us fully present, here and now, to take care of the kingdom and to take care of each other. God needs us fully awake so that we can appreciate this gift, which we call ‘life.’ God needs us to wake-up, to awaken, so that we can fully participate in our calling, in our destinies, in the wonderful plan that God has for us.
We need to be awake.
Today’s Gospel lesson is a parable found in Mark and Luke, although the two versions are slightly different. It’s a somewhat obscure parable, but I remembered it through the Bible study that’s going on Wednesday mornings. In this parable, the master of the house goes on a journey, and while he is away, he leaves his slaves in charge of the house. Scholars say that this is actually a metaphor for Jesus (the master) leaving the earth. The “journey” that the master is on is a common way to refer to the time from the resurrection until the second coming of Christ. So, in this period of time that the community that Mark was writing to was living, and now, in this same period of time that we are living, Jesus has left us in charge of the house, or the kingdom. And the message that comes to us through this parable is God saying to us, “I need you to be awake so that you can take care of things in the world that I have created for you and for all people.”
What I don’t like about the way that this parable is written is that it seems like a threat. “Beware!” it says (Mark 13:33). Like if the second coming were to happen, and we were found “asleep,” we would all be in big trouble. I’m not interested in the sort of interpretation that makes you worry about the end of time and whether or not you are going to be left behind.
But what I can take out of the warning, “Beware; keep alert,” is a sense of urgency. Right now, this minute, every day, God needs us to be awake and working for the healing and transformation of the world. Your lifetime matters. My lifetime matters. We have a charge to keep.
What your charge is exactly, I don’t know. I don’t think you have to know. As long as you are engaging in life, as long as you are paying attention to what is going on around you and responding in the appropriate ways that that situation requires, you are keeping your charge. As long as you are paying attention to the people around you, interacting with them, listening to them, responding in the loving ways that that people require, you are the slave or servant that is taking care of the house.
We don’t have to know our charge or our calling or our destiny. In fact, sometimes, we can’t know. It hasn’t been revealed to us yet. And in those cases, it’s just very important that you be awake, that you be present to life. Inspirational writer, Melody Beattie says, “Relax. You’re on a journey of discovery. Let life reveal itself to you.” I like that. A journey of discover. Enjoy the journey of discovery you are on.
However, I do think it’s helpful to know what God requires of us. It’s easier to do what’s expected when you know what’s expected. Micah 6:8 says, “What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness and to walk humbly with your God?”
So we can be just and seek out justice. We can be kind and receive kindness. We can walk humbly and faithfully on the path that is unrolling before us. These are all ways to serve the Master.
I also think that what God expects of us has to do with what we love and what we are good at. It wouldn’t be consistent with our idea of who God is if God demanded we do what kills our spirits and is a constant struggle.
So, what do you love and what are you good at? That’s what God wants you to do. That’s how you can “keep awake,” that’s how you can take care of the kingdom, by pursuing the path of what you love and what you are good at.
At the children’s Christmas pageant, we learned that the 9th day of Christmas is really about the 9 gifts of the Spirit. Each one of us has at least one if not more of these gifts. Listen and see if you hear a gift that resonates with you: “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge…to another faith…to another gifts of healing…to another the working of miracles…to another prophecy…to another discernment…to another various kinds of tongues…to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses” (1 Cor. 12: 7-11).
You have one of these gifts. Believe in yourself. Be creative and use your gift!
It takes real courage and faithfulness to do what you are good at and what you love because the world does not encourage us to follow our bliss or to live our dreams. The world encourages us to think about money first, and to worry, and to be afraid. Money is important, and there are things to worry about and be afraid of, but these things shouldn’t rule our lives. Love and fulfillment, and the prospect of peace should rule our lives.
The prophet Isaiah says, “The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary. He gives power to the faint, and strengthens the powerless. Even youths will faint and be weary, and the young will fall exhausted; but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint” (Isaiah 40: 28-31).
My friends, if you are tired, get some rest. Wait for the Lord to come into your life and renew your strength. When you are ready, and to the rest of you, I say, “keep awake!” The kingdom has been entrusted to you. God is counting on you. And you can do it. “What I say to you I say to all: 'Keep Awake'” (Mark 13: 37).