How often do we choose sleep instead of prayer at the beginning of our day? After Jesus and the disciples retired to the Mount of Olives following their celebration of the Passover meal, Jesus said to them, “Pray that you will not fall into temptation.” (Luke 22:40) He then withdrew to pray about his impending passion. Even he was tempted to ask God to free him from the trial he was about to undergo, but then submitted to God’s will.
Meanwhile, the disciples were not praying as he suggested, but had fallen asleep. He chastises them for sleeping and not praying, saying again, “Get up and pray so that you will not fall into temptation.” We know what happened next; they succumbed to the temptation of fear, and all of them scattered, abandoning Jesus at his arrest.
Jesus’ antidote for temptation is not complicated. It is simply prayer. In his suggested prayer to his disciples and to us, his concluding petition is, “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” (Mt. 6:13)
Jesus invites us to pray just as he did the disciples. He invites us to begin our day with him and the Father. He knows from his personal experience that we will not be able to withstand the temptations we face each day without prayer. Prayer nurtures our relationship with Jesus and the Father. The temptations we face are many and varied — telling the boss what he wants to hear instead of the truth; getting angry when things don’t go our way; engaging in negative humor at the expense of others; flirting with a co-worker; overstating an item on an expense account; getting short with our spouse; or not spending time with our children at the end of a busy day.
One of my more frequent temptations is to get impatient with a store clerk or the person on a help desk when their response seems to take too long or is off the mark. When I don’t pray, my pride’s expectations are often disproportionate to the problem at hand.
With each temptation that Satan threw at Jesus at the beginning of his ministry, Jesus countered with a scripture that refuted Satan’s premise for the temptation. Prayer and scripture are weapons Jesus gives us against temptation and the wiles of Satan. St. Paul describes them as the armor of God and adds to them truth, righteousness, readiness, faith, salvation, and the Holy Spirit. (Eph. 6:13-18) To these, the Church adds the sacraments of reconciliation and the presence of Jesus in the Eucharist.
“Why are you sleeping?” Jesus asks. “Get up and pray so that you will not fall into temptation.”