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Coping with abandonment and betrayal

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Today’s bible study is from the Gospel of Mathew 26:41: Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.

How often have we replied, when asked to do something, “The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Or, in more modern terms, “I’d love to, but I’m tired.” We probably do it more than we are even aware of. When the children want us to play, when the house needs work done to it, when the car needs to be washed, or when a new project is staring us in the face. We look at it, realize that it needs our attention, but simply feel too tired to deal with it.

Is this what Matthew was speaking of so long ago? If it is, what are we watching for and praying about? Are we likely to fall into temptation other than our own lack of energy and work ethic? Here we shall do a little research to bring this familiar and often quoted passage, into context and historically accurate meaning.

Matthew is actually writing about abandonment, betrayal and arrest. Matthew follows the narrative of Mark closely, but with subtle alterations that shift the focus of the presentation from the failure of the disciples to the sovereignty of Jesus, who continues to be the teacher who embodies his teaching in his own life.

In these verses, Jesus falls prostrate before God in prayer, literally on his face as he has done before and as the disciples have also done. Matthew explicitly delineates three periods of prayer, shifting the focus from the failure of the disciples to Jesus as himself a model of prayer.

The concept of the willingness of the spirit and the weakness of the flesh is not a dualistic anthropology but represents two aspects of the whole person that struggle with each other. Jesus himself is caught up in this struggle, and his prayer moves from praying for deliverance from death to trust and commitment to God’s will, using the identical words he had taught his disciples.

His three prayers form a dramatic contrast to the three denials of Peter, who had slept instead of praying. After the prayer, Jesus is resolute and sovereign and announces the arrival of the betrayer in words that also connote the advent of the kingdom.

Perhaps these will not help us much when we simply feel too weary to do what we want to do or wish we could do. But it will help us understand the prayers of Jesus and his desire to recognize the power of God almighty, as we do in our own prayers each day.

References: The People’s New Testament Commentary by M. Eugene Boring and Fred B. Craddock and The MacArthur Bible Commentary by John MacArthur.

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