Jesus Who Was Going to Die and the Disciples Who Couldn’t Stay Awake

Having left the Upper Room, Jesus withdrew to pray, alone before the Father. At that moment of deep communion, the gospels recount that Jesus experienced great anguish, such acute suffering that it made Him sweat blood. In the knowledge of His imminent death on the Cross, He felt immense anguish at the closeness of death. In this situation an element appeared that was of great importance to the whole Church. Jesus said to His followers: stay here and keep watch.

This appeal for vigilance concerns precisely this moment of anguish, of threats, in which the traitor was to arrive, but it concerns the whole history of the Church. It is a permanent message for every era because the disciples’ drowsiness was not just a problem at that moment but is a problem for the whole of history.

Our Apathy

The question is: In what does this apathy consist? What would the watchfulness to which the Lord invites us consist of? I would say that the disciples’ somnolence in the course of history is a certain insensitiveness of the soul with regard to the power of evil, an insensibility to all the evil in the world. We do not wish to be unduly disturbed by these things, we prefer to forget them. We think that perhaps, after all, it will not be so serious and we forget.

Moreover, it is not only insensibility to evil, when we should be watchful in order to do good, to fight for the force of goodness. Rather it is an insensibility to God: this is our true sleepiness, this insensibility to God’s presence that also makes us insensible to evil. We are not aware of God — He would disturb us — hence we are naturally not aware of the force of evil and continue on the path of our own convenience.

Nocturnal adoration of Holy Thursday, watching with the Lord, must be the very moment to make us reflect on the somnolence of the disciples, of the defenders of Jesus, of the Apostles, of us who do not see, who do not wish to see the whole force of evil nor do we wish to enter his passion for goodness, for the presence of God in the world, for the love of our neighbor and of God.

Then the Lord began to pray. The three Apostles — Peter, James, and John — were asleep but they awoke intermittently and heard the refrain of this prayer of the Lord: “not my will, but your will be done.” What is this will of mine, what is this will of yours of which the Lord speaks?

My will is “that he should not die,” that he be spared this cup of suffering. It is the human will, human nature, and Christ felt, with the whole awareness of His being, life, the abyss of death, the terror of nothingness, the threat of suffering. Moreover, He was even more acutely aware of the abyss of evil than are we who have a natural aversion to death, a natural fear of death.

The Whole of Humanity’s Suffering

He felt, together with death, the whole of humanity’s suffering. He felt that this was the cup He was obliged to drink, that He himself had to drink in order to accept the evil of the world, all that is terrible, the aversion to God, the whole weight of sin. And we can understand that before this reality, the cruelty of which He fully perceived, Jesus, with his human soul, was terrified: my will would be not to drink the cup, but my will is subordinate to your will, to the will of God, to the will of the Father, which is also the true will of the Son.

And thus in this prayer Jesus transformed his natural repugnance, His aversion to the cup and to His mission to die for us. He transformed his own natural will into God’s will, into a “yes” to God’s will.

Man of himself is tempted to oppose God’s will, to seek to do his own will, to feel free only if he is autonomous; he sets his own autonomy against the heteronomy of obeying God’s will. This is the whole drama of humanity. But in truth, this autonomy is mistaken. Entry into God’s will is not opposition to the self, it is not a form of slavery that violates my will but rather means entering into truth and love, into goodness.

And Jesus draws our will — which opposes God’s will, which seeks autonomy — upwards, towards God’s will. This is the drama of our redemption, that Jesus should uplift our will, our total aversion to God’s will, and our aversion to death and sin and unite it with the Father’s will: “Not my will but yours”. In this transformation of “no” into “yes,” in this insertion of the creatural will into the will of the Father, He transforms humanity and redeems us. And He invites us to be part of his movement: to emerge from our “no” and to enter into the “yes” of the Son. My will exists, but the will of the Father is crucial because it is truth and love.

Jesus’s Firm Determination

Dear friends, we have endeavored to understand Jesus’ state of mind at the moment when He experienced the extreme trial in order to grasp what directed His action. The criterion that throughout His life guided every decision Jesus made was His firm determination to love the Father, to be one with the Father, and to be faithful to Him. This decision to respond to His love impelled him to embrace the Father’s plan in every single circumstance, to make His own the plan of love entrusted to Him in order to recapitulate all things in God, to lead all things to Him.

In reliving the Sacred Triduum, let us also prepare ourselves to welcome God’s will in our life, knowing that our own true good, the way to life, is found in God’s will even if it appears harsh, in contrast with our intentions. May the Virgin Mother guide us on this itinerary and obtain from her divine Son the grace to be able to spend our life for love of Jesus, in the service of our brethren.


This is taken from Benedict’s general audience on the Wednesday of Holy Week in 2001. The part used has been very slightly edited.

Written By
More from Benedict XVI