Cleansing Fire

Defending Truth and Tradition in the Roman Catholic Church

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Sifting Simon — Part II

March 14th, 2019, Promulgated by Diane Harris

In the following  analysis, we suggest some of the weaknesses of Peter that may have left ajar vulnerabilities to the evil one, and how each such exploitation opens his vulnerability further.

Pre-sifting before Olivet?

Before even arriving at the Garden of Gethsemane on the Mount of Olives, Peter is already carrying a sword at Christ’s behest, and has been told very specifically that soon he will deny Christ not once or twice but THREE times! Christ’s prophecy of Peter’s denials is a direct rebuff to Peter’s own claims that he is willing to die for Christ.   And Peter knows that Truth Himself, Jesus Christ, does not claim falsely. Peter most likely is already feeling ‘disturbed’ to some extent, perhaps even defensive. He knows he had earlier that evening fallen short by refusing at first to allow the Lord to wash his feet. Then he heard that one of the twelve would betray Christ. Through John’s intervention at table, Peter may have had some comfort that he himself wasn’t the betrayer, but a betrayer still exists in their midst!  And then there occurred the mysterious exchange in which he, Peter, was inserted on behalf of all the Apostles into a prophesied sifting by Satan. What is going to happen? Who can be trusted? Who can’t? This is the mindset with which Peter enters the familiar garden.

Underlying the tension, there also had been some ominous and confusing statements by the Lord, which Peter simply couldn’t understand. The Lord is going away? Where?  Why cannot Peter go with Him? Christ’s sorrow seems palpable, yet at such a time the disciples argued and shamed themselves about which one of them was the most important! And what do those terms mean — “lifted up” and “rise again on the third day”? How will the Kingdom of Israel be re-established? When? Who will get rid of the Romans? Confusion abounds around the issues, so it seems a “pre-sifting” has already enters into the mind and heart which Peter brings to Gethsemane. His weaknesses, compounded by confusion, division, pride, doubt and worry, open the doors a crack through which Satan can enter to sift him.

It is important to understand the distressed mindset of Peter even before the arrest of Christ. This is not to be any ordinary “Whoops….I made a mistake” situation for Peter of denying Christ. Rather, the forces are lining up for a confrontation and Peter has already been weakened.

Christ’s Agony and Prayer in the Garden

Agony in the Garden; Vasily Perov

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The three Synoptic Gospels give a fair accounting of Christ’s Agony and Prayer in the Garden, but John’s Gospel only reports of Christ that “… He went forth with His disciples across the Kidron valley, where there was a garden, which He and His disciples entered.” (John 18:1)  The Synoptics all report far more detail on Christ’s Agony and Prayer than does John. This omission of agony and prayer text in John’s narrative seems

not so much to be “missing” as John’s having nothing further to add.  Often he seems to add in order to supplement with what is not there, or to shed further light, or he adds something for which he may have unique knowledge.  But no matter how important an event is, like institution of the Eucharist, he seems not to add, as perhaps the Synoptic writers had already done an acceptable rendering. The point is that John is simply not a fourth Gospel. No, it is more a reflection of his commitment to the fullness of Truth. It seems likely he had work and words of his own to add as he deepened in understanding over the many years allotted to him.  Such examples would include the Prologue, large portions of Chapter 6, the raising of Lazarus, articulation of the role of the Holy Spirit, and the observation that all the books of the world could not ‘hold’ Christ (John 21:25).  It is perhaps a bit surprising to have no text from John on the Agony and Prayer, since John was one of the three charged with remaining awake. But he offers no additional insight or defense into his and others’ failures. They are self-evident.

In Mark 14:34, and Matthew 26:38, Christ tells the Apostles to “…remain here and watch,”  but they failed to be able to stay awake. Mark and Matthew agree that the three Apostles, Peter, James and John, fell asleep three times, in a sense warning of the threefold denial to come, in a sense already being a kind of denial. Christ was apparently the One doing all the praying. Mark and Matthew also record the memorable and haunting words of Christ to Simon Peter in particular: “So, could you not watch with Me one hour?” (Matthew 26:40; Mark 14:37.)  Christ expressed His disappointment, but the Apostles didn’t know how to answer Him. While their master, teacher, and Lord is distressed as never before, begging the Father that the cup He is to drink may pass from Him, the Apostles succumb to their own weaknesses and sleepiness and sadness, following three cups of wine, the last of which the Lord had said to be His Blood!

Stress increases on Peter

It should not be particularly difficult for us to step into Peter’s skin at this point, into his realization of personal failure, stirring up in him even more agitation. Under the stress of failing to stay awake and pray, additional weaknesses in Peter are being exposed, possibly including laziness, selfishness, shame and widening guilt. Whatever pride Peter might have felt in avowing that he’d go to prison and death with Christ, must now be shrinking into embarrassment, as his failures are being seen and exploited by Satan.

Peter, especially, and James and John as well, have definitely let Christ down by falling asleep and by also failing repeatedly to watch and to pray as commanded. Perhaps they were just too comfortable in a place where they had often met in safety, and apparently slept in peace. While Luke does not record all three separate ‘falling asleep incidents,’ he does add the remarkable testimony in Luke 22:43 about Christ that “… there appeared to Him an angel from heaven, strengthening Him.” Luke, reputed to be a physician, also credibly describes the intensity of Christ’s suffering in the imagery that His sweat became like great drops of blood falling down upon the ground.”

Now Peter will experience in the betrayal of Christ by Judas, the beginning of another betrayal, one by the Legal System, further undermining what Peter thought he could rely upon.

The RSV-CE text related to the above is appended here:

 

Mark 14: 32-42

32 And they went to a place which was called Gethsem’ane; and He said to His disciples, “Sit here, while I pray.”
33 And He took with Him Peter and James and John, and began to be greatly distressed and troubled.
34 And He said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch.”
35 And going a little farther, He fell on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from Him.
36 And He said, “Abba, Father, all things are possible to Thee; remove this cup from Me; yet not what I will, but what Thou            wilt.”
37 And He came and found them sleeping, and He said to Peter, “Simon, are you asleep? Could you not watch one hour?
38 Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.”
39 And again He went away and prayed, saying the same words.
40 And again He came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were very heavy; and they did not know what to answer Him.
41 And He came the third time, and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? It is enough; the hour has come;         the Son of man is betrayed into the hands of sinners.
42 Rise, let us be going; see, My betrayer is at hand.”

 

Matthew 26:36-46:

36 Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsem’ane, and He said to His disciples, “Sit here, while I go yonder and pray.”
37 And taking with Him Peter and the two sons of Zeb’edee, He began to be sorrowful and troubled.
38 Then He said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with Me.”
39 And going a little farther He fell on His face and prayed, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as Thou wilt.”
40 And He came to the disciples and found them sleeping; and He said to Peter, “So, could you not watch with Me one hour?
41 Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.”
42 Again, for the second time, He went away and prayed, “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, Thy will be done.”
43 And again He came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy.
44 So, leaving them again, He went away and prayed for the third time, saying the same words.
45 Then He came to the disciples and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? Behold, the hour is at hand, and the Son of man is betrayed into the hands of sinners.”

46 Rise, let us be going; see, my betrayer is at hand.”

 

Luke 22:39-46

39 And He came out, and went, as was His custom, to the Mount of Olives; and the disciples followed Him.
40 And when He came to the place He said to them, “Pray that you may not enter into temptation.”
41 And He withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, and knelt down and prayed,
42 “Father, if Thou art willing, remove this cup from Me; nevertheless not My will, but Thine, be done.”
[Other ancient authorities add verse 43 And there appeared to Him an angel from heaven, strengthening Him”.]
[Other ancient authorities insert add 44 And being in an agony He prayed more earnestly; and this sweat became like great                                                                         drops of blood falling down upon the ground.”]
45 And when He rose from prayer, He came to the disciples and found them sleeping for sorrow,
46 and He said to them, “Why do you sleep? Rise and pray that you may not enter into temptation.”

 

John 18:1

1  “When Jesus had spoken these words, He went forth with His disciples across the Kidron valley, where there was a garden, which He and His disciples entered.”

 

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