Mark 14:37

Then he came and found the three apostles asleep. “Simon,” he said to Peter, “are you asleep? Couldn’t you watch for one hour?

heightened alert is wearing
each sound amplified
one suspicion welcoming another
until the only option
is crazy or sensory deprivation

in the end all sleep
unconscious even of dreams
no matter the danger
sleep will have its way

in the end all sleep
the most exciting partnership lost
to one’s own biorhythms

in the end all sleep
no command can counter this

in the end all sleep

The question about alertness contains a question about strength to do the task—ἴσχυσας (ischusas, strength/health/ability). Variants of this word have been used by Mark: 1) 2:17, when Jesus spoke of his presence not being for the healthy (including Peter and the other sleeping disciples?); 2) 5:4, as a descriptor of those whose strength was not able to control the Geresene; and 3) 9:18, noting the disciples not being up to the task of healing a convulsing boy.

Together, these four references put us in the unenviable position of being commanded to eternal wakefulness. Like Paul’s later admonishment to persist in prayer, wakefulness and prayer entail more than non-sleep or consciousness of praying. It is helpful to have a palin moment of our own and return to the comment in verse 13:33 and reflect again on the quote from Sabin.

We need to approach wakefulness in the same manner as a novice would meditate on a koan. What strength is available to us through independent agency and what is someone else’s action? Such reflection can assist the Reader in finding their part in a story of intersections caught between a valued past and an at least equally valued different future.

Reflection on the difference it makes to Jesus or Mark’s story for the disciples to keep their eyes open (other than loading the disciples then and now with guilt for not being “strong”) can keep us focused on the Wisdom issue of a larger frame.

In light of frames, Peter is here referred to by his pre-called name of Simon. That’s a serious calling out. It may be more reflective of Jesus’ state of being than Simon Peter’s.

Mark 14:36

“Abba, Father,” he said, “all things are possible to you; take away this cup from me; yet, not what I will, but what you will.”

when all else fails
we fall back on old tapes
attempting a recreation
to recapture our being
from itself

our partnership agreements
have become too one-sided
dancing and planning
have paled and trapped vision
into sufficiency

wiggle as we might
eventually there is trust
still at work
doing all the good we can
for its own sake

In the for-what-it-is-worth category, this verse was the most vexing for me to translate because of its lack of ongoing partnership.

With no response, Jesus is left with a decision about proceeding with the last point of partnered agreement on Transfiguration Mountain or making a decision for both.

It is helpful at this point to read Nikos Kazantzakis’ Last Temptation of Christ. Though the setting of Gethsemane is different from Golgatha, the dynamic is quite similar.

Aichele15 sets a helpful context for this scene:

“Abba’s silence in Gethsemane accompanies a moment of non-transfiguration. Is Jesus no longer the son of the Father? Has he already been abandoned by God (15:34)?

My translation in a forthcoming volume, Slow-Reading the Gospel of Mark: A Translation, goes as follows (punctuate as you need for sense):

Jesus’ words were
To the Beloved
whose name I carry
to that beyond impossibility
remove this test
not just as I desire
but as we
previously agreed.

Mark 14:35

Going on a little further, he threw himself on the ground, and began to pray that, if it were possible, he might be spared that hour.

in the end we all fall down
after all the rosy rings
have rolled away
the sadness of suffering
still needs to be dealt with

each Adam and every Eve
with their internal
Socrates and Buddha
Solomon and Confucius
prepares their suffering antidote

each Eve and every Adam
comes to terms with suffering
Sappho and Tārā
Deborah and Gargi
echo still

so bright and brave
we enter our first wilderness
our beast and angels in accord
too many wildernesses later
we pray to be spared one more

As Jesus travels further into this particular wilderness, attempting to make sense out of the senseless reality of suffering and death, the only one still present is the partnered Reader.

Does the Reader also prostrate themself to hear whatever Jesus would say aloud? If not, do they stand? Kneel?

When hearing the request for being spared whatever amount of predestination is carried with such a time of suffering, does the Reader already know where this is going? Do they place a hand on Jesus’ back as he had done on so many times of healing or withhold it? Do they only listen or attempt to speak?

Waetjen19 speaks of Mark as an “omniscient narrator” relating events unavailable to the characters. If Mark is writing for the benefit of the Reader in such places as the Jordan River where a dove descended with baptismal belovedness and here at Gethsemane:

… the addressees of the Gospel, acquire a comprehension of Jesus’ person and work that the disciples inside the story do not have. The advantage that they gain, however, is hazardous, for it can be turned against them in their interaction with the story. What will be the outcome of their confrontation with their own quality of discipleship, mirrored as it is in the Gospel by Jesus’ followers, which they will be forced to evaluate from a new transcending point of view that begins to crystallize out of the fresh insights they receive from an omniscient storyteller?

Mark 14:34

“I am sad at heart,” he said, “sad even to death; wait here, and watch.”

caught in systems
too big to fail
with too much to lose
if healed of too much control
bedrock sadness grows too much

then beloved
teaching healing
then betrayed

you’re with me
stay over there
turn on high alert
I’ll be over there
everyone’s alone

what a day this has been
a year’s worth of hope
a decade’s investment
to change an era
and it has come to naught

The comments of Jesus are suggestive of what may have been going on inside the man with many possessions who was unable to rid himself of their pull on his life. The goal of eternity was insufficient to get him over the hump of actually selling his possessions and giving the proceeds to the poor.

It can be fruitful to imagine what has so captured Jesus that as he actually comes to selling his life, even as a ransom for many, he is troubled to his depths. The cost of continuing in belovedness does not reduce the longer one has been at it. It always costs an identity.

Presuming Jesus has an identity of his own, a nearing denouement has brought the value of identity to the surface. Whether in upper-case or lower-, is Jesus still b/Beloved? Still the t/Transfigured?

These repeated scenes with the disciples not only bring to mind the parable of a house-owner away on a journey and the need to watch but the Transfiguration. Sabin1179 notes this latter connection:

The scene is constructed by Mark as the reverse of the scene of transfiguration. Jesus takes the same three disciples and changes again before their eyes, only in precisely opposite ways…. In both episodes the disciples do not know what to say (9:6 and 14:40), yet otherwise their responses are markedly different; When Jesus appears glorious, Peter understands his relationship to Moses and Elijah (9:5), and the disciples connect his transfigured state with Elijah and the End Time (9:11); when Jesus appears “sorrowful even to death” (14:34), the disciples close their eyes and fall asleep.

“Suffering/death” now has more impact than when first met.

Mark 14:33

He took with him Peter, James, and John; and began to show signs of great dismay and deep distress of mind.

in the midst
of a usual cast of characters
comfort levels
are expected to be high

having gone through
so many experiences
we’ve got each other’s back
best buddies

but even here
all the king’s horses
and all our friend’s prayers
can’t budge impending doom

lonelier than ever
despair leads us away
anxiety pushes us away
lonelier than ever

Even best buddies can’t keep us from “walking that lonesome valley by ourself”.

Taking Peter, James, and John along with him while leaving the rest of the disciples sitting behind, suggests there is a heightened expectation that their presence will make a difference, even though it didn’t during a moment of transfiguration. These three became confused and stuttered inappropriately about tents. Eventually, they were told to speak to no one about this. Presumably because they would only make a mess of the mystery to which they were witnesses.

In the presence of his most often named disciples, there was another beginning in addition to the beginning of good news. This is the beginning of suffering and death with the twin pair of dreads—despair and anxiety. These two are still active within individual Christians and congregations as well as the church at large when we stop to consider the state of both church and beyond-church. The difference the church has made, internally and externally, has, at best, a neutral effect and, at worst, an adverse effect.

Bratcher446 talks about the words translated as the dismay of  despair and anxiety, distress and trouble:

ἐκθαμβέω (ekthambeō) the word denotes a distress which is the result of surprise, i.e. a dread caused by something unexpected.

ἀδημονέω (adēmoneō) the emphasis of this verb seems to be on the element of anguish caused by uncertainty and bewilderment as to what to do.

Both words leave us a bit confused as suffering and death have been constant companions. Now they are a surprise wilderness?

Mark 14:32

Presently they came to a garden known as Gethsemane, and Jesus said to his disciples “Sit down here while I pray.”

having learned to pray
when usual processes fail
was a difficult lesson
it is still a stiff task
to hop out of routine
and actually pray

we’ve long ago known
mama Jesus is the best prayer
and goes off to practice
she’s still in charge
our number one routine
so we leave our praying to her

in a lovely garden
all we do is sit
as evening grows darker
to see how our routine
plays out this time

Mark does not reference Gethsemane as a garden. It is a place where oil is pressed from olives. The very name comes from gath-semane, meaning “oil press”. This is a place to work, not to laze around.

Jesus prepares to go to his work of prayer.

We have seen Jesus go off by himself to pray. We have seen him send the disciples to sea while he went off by himself to pray. We have heard a bit of Jesus at prayer with a sleeping daughter and blind man. But, in Mark, there is not much direction given about praying other than to do so when all else fails.

Here, Jesus is again the Prayer-in-Chief. The disciples are instructed to sit, not sit and pray. It is as if they are protective objects placed to provide a buffer between Jesus and a beginning of a long-talked-about suffering.

A question begs to be asked about why Jesus did not have the disciples participate in some form of prayer. This is in keeping with a friend’s response when in a similar position of leadership—they didn’t want particular people praying with or for them because it was all too predictable that their prayers would go in a different direction. Jesus may not have wanted Peter’s prayer of self-delusion to weaken his own need for prayer.

Implied in “sitting” is the recent repetition of “Keep awake”, but it is not explicitly stated. At question is whether the apocalyptic energy of an intense wakefulness is still operative with the disciples. It has been a busy time and they may have full tummies. These, added to pleasant enough night air, may contribute to failing this first test of whether or not they can live without denying Jesus and just sit.

Mark 14:31

But Peter vehemently protested, “Even if I must die with you, I will never disown you!” And they all said the same.

no no no
I’ll die before I die
and there’s nothin’
you can do
to stop me
from making
a complete fool
of your teaching

yes indeed
so say we all
we’re saying it loud
so very proud of our loud
its time to take a stand
we’ve got the training
to win outright victory

The intensified phrase,  “vehemently protested”, gives the flavor of the Greek. If you are going to protest too much, do so with gusto.

After Peter protests, we come to the little word “all” who are now emboldened to add their voice to Peter’s.

This is the third time in five verses that we have come upon the word “all”. In the immediate context, this is a reference to the Twelve, but the 60+ uses of this word in Mark are an indication of a much larger picture Mark is painting.

Myers189 points to this larger picture in his paragraph:

As we have come to expect, Jesus’ realism about his destiny is immediately refuted by Peter (14:29). But as surely as Peter sets himself apart as the exception, Jesus counters that he above all will characterize the desertion (14:30). The whole community echoes Peter’s vehement protestations of loyalty (14:31), showing that they are all complicit in self-delusion.

Self-delusion is a circle difficult to break into. Seen from its own vantage point, everything can be fitted into the constructed model. One of the clues is an excessive use of “should” and “ought”. What I see is what you should see. The way I am defining the situation is the way you ought to define it. This is a strong defense not easily toppled. It would be far easier to cause the Temple walls to fall than for my appreciation for my way to stumble. There are no banana peels in this world.

Self-delusion comes in both individual and communal expressions, as here. Peter’s denial of Jesus’ reality is a center around which others gather. A strong individual can keep a group satisfied with their eternal perspective, and a strong group can help an individual be satisfied with the shared vision. They both attribute lies to others.

“All” implicates each of us in some level of self-delusion.

Mark 14:30

“I tell you,” answered Jesus, “that you yourself today – yes, this very night – before the cock crows twice, will disown me three times.”

oh oh
you don’t have to like it
one potato two potato
three potato four
we all fall down
each time a rooster crows
we’ve moved on

ho ho ho
get used to it
whether Jack goes up or down
he’s going to break his crown
and all the king’s horses
won’t put it together again
get real listen to the rooster

Mark begins with “Amen!” an emphatic declaration and moves on to another emphatic that might better be phrased, “You yourself”. This is to say that while all the disciples will betray in one form or another, it is Peter who will make the formal denials of Jesus. Even Judas’ handing-over is a smaller betrayal than Peter’s denial that he has even a nodding acquaintance with Jesus.

We are reminded here of the return of the vacationing house-owner returning at an unknown time, perhaps cockcrow. This may be pre-dawn with real roosters or before the Roman bugle call—gallicinium (cock-crow)—the end of the third watch of the night—3:00 a.m.

A third emphasis is heard in the phrasing about three denials happening before two rooster crows. Were it three denials and three crows we would have a sense of pace and regularity. Here, in Mark’s hurried pace, Peter will squeeze in three denials before there are two crows.

The result is an understanding of the dire situation in which Jesus finds himself. Not unexpected, as he has been talking about being handed over for a while, but ever more real and imminent. Those not in his sandals are still able to evade having to come to terms with the overwhelming expectation that there is no exit from the course of events. And, if there were an out available, it would be inauthentic to take it for it would be a denial of good news, belovedness, and a steady basic hope beyond any evidence to the contrary.

It is helpful to attend to Carrington’s444 reference to F. C. Grant’s suggestion that “the words are a proverbial expression indicating not time, but readiness to betray….”

We will see Jesus’ readiness to betray his lot in just another few verses. This knowledge may enter into his assessment of Peter.

Mark 14:29

“Even if everyone else falls away,” said Peter, “I will not.”

oh yeah
even if put in a press
I won’t be squeezed

my integrity is unsurpassed
I yam what I yam
and that’s all what I yam

I’m number one
no mater what James and John
try to pull

that’s all there is to it
I’m a rock
and will sit here forever

It wasn’t all that long ago that Peter said to Jesus when the subject of suffering and death was raised, “No, you can’t!”

Now Peter is saying to Jesus that when it comes to steadfastness, “Yes, I can”.

Peter would do well in today’s computer age where everything is binary (a “1” or a “0”) or a partisan political-divide elicits, “Only my way, never yours.”

Carrington318, in a nice turn of phrase, says of Peter, “It is his métier, in this book to talk too much.” It is this talking too much that indicates we are out of partnership with G*D and Neighb*r. At least one implication is that we are not feeling safe and have to retreat to an extreme.

Peter is a rock to be stumbled over. Even if all the rest of the disciples (not just Judas) should betray, Peter-the-Rock, will not stumble because he is so well grounded, eternally grounded.

It is this very self-assurance that will bring Peter to his knees in regret and remorse. With his surety, Peter is unable to imagine being less than the hero. According to some traditions he has the “keys to the kingdom”. This form of infallibility will come to haunt the church as it is forever incorporating the eternal in a time-bound decision and unable to adjust as “time makes ancient truth [drumroll] uncouth [rimshot!]”.

Carrington319 continues:

We learn or infer from Luke, that [Peter] had sold his cloak to buy two swords, and he was not afraid to use one of them. Nor was he afraid to follow Jesus (with a sword?) into the hall of the high priest. He had courage. And yet he failed.

The word “bravado” comes to mind in its current usage where the wildness of “Bravo!” has simply become an arrogant expression of power that turns out to not be so tough as that which is projected. Peter’s bluster is wide but not deep.

Mark 14:28

Yet, after I have risen, I will go before you into Galilee.”

when metamorphed one more time
sneaky in the way I’ll show up
in your everyday goings-on
it will be old home week

from Galilee we have come
to Galilee we shall return
in Galilee through Galilee
we’ll go beyond Galilee

olive to oil
Galilee to Galilee
illusions drop away
grow suffer die

After showing kindness to those with little to no control over their condition, the powers that be (religious and secular) have plotted suffering and death for Jesus. His addition to the usual state of affairs is a “rising”.

Added to the actions of Temple and State, we have heard that the disciples will betray Jesus in proactive and reactive ways.

This verse is word of hope in the face of all-too-usual realities in everyday life. After merciful acts, suffering, betrayal, and death—Jesus will be raised [note that “raised” is different from “rise”] and precede the disciples to Galilee to call them again. Galilee is where calls are responded to, amazing healings occur two-by-two, and feedings and storm-stillings and teachings go on. This will also lead Mark’s narrative back to its beginning of good news.

It is this circularity that indicates to Sabin1214 that a key to understanding Mark is to view it as “a Wisdom riddle or mashal.”

Aichele54 finds his narrative approach to Mark grounded in this same second visit to Galilee that is never spoken of. Thus Aichele raises the importance of how we engage Mark as Readers. Readers become part of the story.

Waetjen244 notes that what is important in Mark is not predictions of rising but the experience of it:

Hearing the good news of the resurrection is not enough. They must experience the reality of the risen Jesus for themselves, and that will not happen in Jerusalem. There will be no post-Easter appearances in the canceled architectonic center of Judaism, because a new exodus has occurred.

The beginning of good news is always beginning. There is a dynamism in Creation that does not end in stasis, but presence.