No sooner had Christ offered to drink the cup from His Father offered Him than the soldiers laid their hands upon the gentle Savior and the arrest was completed. At the very moment when Christ could have used the moral support of His disciple, Scripture records these sad words: “Then all the disciples left Him and fled.” (Mt. 26:56)
Disciples flee the scene, Duccio di Buoninsegna c. 1310
If we ever needed proof of the weakness of the apostles, we need look no further than to the story of their desertion of Christ at the moment of His arrest. We can determine several reasons for the flight, a general one resulting from the inherent inconstancy of man, and the other resulting from the adoption of false notions. The Apostles may have become infected with the notion that Christ’s kingdom would be a material one and that if it was to be established on this earth, they themselves would be in the best position to be leaders. Had they not given proof on occasion of the very false notion of the Kingdom of God, by disputing among themselves about leadership? You know, there was a good deal of pride in the group of ignorant fishermen from the most insignificant provinces of the civilized world who allowed themselves to gloat over the possibility of their being autocratic leaders in the new kingdom.
It is quite possible too that Christ permitted the desertion without protest (1) to aggravate His sufferings, and (2) to prove His love.
Keep before you in mind, in studying the whole story of the Passion, that Christ accepted the chalice offered Him by His Father – a chalice filled to the brim with the sins of the world. It is possible that the desertion of the Apostles was permitted that he might taste of every ingredient of bitterness which is mingled in man’s cup of woe, and there are few things more bitter than being forsaken by friends in the hour of need.
I am more inclined to believe that the desertion was permitted to prove Christ’s love for man. Who can ever say that his sins are too great to be forgiven, or his heart too depraved to be renewed? Only trust Him. His grace is sufficient for you. Such a scene as the desertion of the Apostles and yet His continued love for them, must encourage the worst of the backsliders to return to Him. Christ did not disown His disciple, though they deserted Him in His distress, but after His resurrection, He sent to them the faithful women, messages of tenderness and love, “Go”, said He to Mary Magdalen, “go to my brethren, and say to them, ‘I ascend to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” (Jn. 20:17) And to the other women Christ said: “Go, take word to my brethren that they set out for Galilee; there they shall see me.” (Mt. 28:10) Go to our Lord in the tabernacle today and console Him for the number of times you have deserted Him. Tell Him how much you appreciate His efforts to make you realize the greatness of His love for, and mercy toward you. Pray especially today for the grace of final perseverance.