Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. (Matt. 26:40)Jesus was making two important points here. The first is that his disciples had not followed his instruction, as he had requested that Peter, John and James keep watch, as he was expecting to be arrested shortly:
"Stay here and keep watch with me." (Matt. 26:38)The word "disciple" means discipline. The spiritual teacher instructs his disciples, and chastises them when they do not follow his instructions. So in this first part of his statement, Jesus is chastising his students for not following his instructions to watch out for him while he prayed.
The second part of this statement indicates a core element of Jesus' teachings. Jesus clearly taught there was a distinction between the spiritual person and the physical body:
"The spirit is willing, but the body is weak."Who is Jesus referring to as the "spirit"? We can see here that the "spirit" has a will - "is willing." Only a person can have a will, and thus we can conclude that the "spirit" Jesus refers to is the person within.
The word "spirit" is being translated from the Greek word πνεῦμα (pneuma). According to the lexicon, this means, "the vital principal by which the body is animated." as well as "a life giving spirit," and "the soul."
Many refer to the soul as a part of a person - like an organ or something. Others will refer to the soul as one's morality.
Here we can see that Jesus' use of the word "spirit" does not relate to a part of a person or one's morality. Jesus is referring to "spirit" as the individual spiritual person: Again, only an individual person can have a will.
But then the verse states Jesus said, "but the body is weak." This is a slight mistranslation, because the Greek word being translated to "body" is σάρξ (sarx), which according to the lexicon means "flesh (the soft substance of the living body, which covers the bones and is permeated with blood) of both man and beasts." Without the parenthesis: "flesh of both man and beasts."
More importantly, the word also means, again according to the lexicon, "the sensuous nature of man, "the animal nature"" and "the animal nature with cravings which incite to sin."
We can see from these definitions that the word "body" falls short of capturing the real meaning of Jesus' statement. He was saying that while the spiritual person might be willing to do something, the cravings of the physical body can pull the person otherwise.
In this particular case, the spiritual person within each of his disciples' bodies might be willing to follow the instructions of their spiritual teacher - Jesus. But the "animal nature" inherent within their occupation of a physical body pulled them to do otherwise.
What is going on here? How can we be willing to do something, yet be driven to do something else by virtue of our physical body and its inherent "cravings"? Many characterize this as "the devil," as in: "the devil made me do it." This is often conjured as having a little devil on our shoulders, who is constantly tempting us.
The answer lies within the reason for our occupation of these physical bodies in the first place.
Each of us is a spiritual individual created by the Supreme Being to share the spiritual realm with Him, play with Him, and be one of His care-givers. He wanted to share loving relationships with us. But real love requires freedom, so God gave us the freedom to love Him or not. He gave us the choice to engage in a relationship with Him or not.
Some of us decided to exercise that freedom. So we "ate the fruit" of self-centeredness, and decided we did not want to be His care-giver anymore.
Since the population of the spiritual realm is full of love without self-centeredness, those of us who chose not to love Him were relocated away from the spiritual realm.
Since we are spiritual by nature, this relocation requires a virtual existence. One where we could take on a role different than our real nature. In order to take on a self-centered existence, we need a virtual personality - because our true nature is loving and selfless.
So the Supreme Being designed a virtual universe where we could occupy temporary physical bodies and play temporary roles, in order to exercise our self-centeredness.
We might compare this to a play, where the actors put on costumes and play roles different than their "real" roles.
To complete the analogy, our "costumes" are these physical bodies.
We know these physical bodies are temporary and we are playing temporary roles in them because our bodies keep changing and our roles keep changing - yet each of us is still the same person within. When our body is young, we play the role of a child. When our body grows older, we play the role of a teenager. Later we play the role of an adult, with a job and family. Then later we play the role of a senior citizen.
Each of these roles are not us. We are simply playing them because we are expected by society to play these roles, and we identify with this changing body as it ages.
The physical body is a temporary vehicle for the living being. Each of us is driving our physical body much like a person would drive a car. And as most of us have experienced, when we are driving a car we begin to identify with it.
We also begin to identify the other drivers on the road with their cars. When we are passed on the highway by a speeder in a red car, we will say, "that red car is speeding." We are thus identifying the driver as their car.
In the same way, after a short time within these physical bodies, we begin to identify with them. This is the design of the physical world, as programmed by the Supreme Being.
As we identify with these physical bodies, we also seek our happiness through them. We begin to think that our happiness revolves around whether the body feels good. This is also designed by the Supreme Being.
The body is designed to release neurotransmitters called dopamine, serotonin and endorphins, which signal to our brain that something is good for the body. Eating something sweet or having a sexual orgasm, for example, will cause the brain to release these "feel good" chemicals. These "feel good" chemicals trick us - the spirit-person within - into thinking we become happy when the nerves are saturated with one or more of these "feel good" neurotransmitters.
Yet no one actually becomes happier when the body is saturated with these neurotransmitters. The sensation might feel good to our body, but the spiritual person within is not satisfied.
This might be likened to a car driver feeling hungry and thinking that if he filled his car's tank with gas the driver would not feel hungry anymore. No. The car's gas tank gets filled up, but the driver's stomach is not touched by the gas. The driver will still feel hungry, even when the gas tank is full.
It is the same with the spiritual being driving the physical body. The reason that so many people living in the physical world are unhappy - even those with great wealth and all the sweet foods and sexual organisms they could ever want - is because we are spiritual in essence, not physical.
And this is what Jesus is trying to teach his students. His students' bodies may feel more comfortable sleeping, but their spiritual selves will only be satisfied when they are fixed within their real identity - being one of the Supreme Being's loving servants.
So what does staying awake have to do with being one of God's loving servants?
When the spiritual teacher instructs his student to do something, there is a reason. The student may not understand the reason, but the bonafide spiritual teacher is God's representative, and therefore is being led by the Supreme Being.
Therefore, to follow the instruction of the bonafide spiritual teacher means to be pleasing to the Supreme Being. The confidential loving servant of the Supreme Being - as Jesus is - is fixed within a loving relationship with God, and is doing what is pleasing to his Beloved.
Therefore, following the instructions of such a bonafide spiritual teacher is doing what pleases the Supreme Being. A person who sees this relationship between God and the spiritual teacher understands this. They see that they can immediately return to the spiritual realm by following such a teacher, because that teacher is engaged in a loving relationship with God.
This is an ancient understanding, one that has been passed down over thousands of years from teacher to student. This is why Abraham accepted Melchizedek as his teacher, why Joshua accepted Moses, why Samuel accepted Eli, why David accepted Samuel, why Solomon accepted David and why Jesus accepted John the Baptist as his teacher.
This is one of the important issues of the spiritual teacher-student relationship - one that Jesus was also passing down to his students, as we can see from his statement to them.
This is the method by which the Supreme Being brings us back to Him. He sends His loving servants such as Jesus to request us to come home to Him. The Supreme Being wants us back. He wants us to return to His loving arms. This is why Jesus' most important teaching was:
"'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment." (Matt. 23:37-38)
(For a translation of Jesus' statements from the Book of Matthew without institutional sectarian influence, see the Gospels of Jesus - translated from the original Greek texts.)