Wednesday: Answering Judas
This scene in our gospel tonight is so painful I don’t even know where to start with it.
There are so many complex emotions in the room.
Jesus has just finished washing the disciples’ feet, a moment of tenderness and love.
They could sense a finality to this supper they were sharing, but they weren’t sure why, and they started to feel an uneasiness that was uncomfortably close to fear.
Where everything had been so right just a few moments ago, enjoying dinner together as they had so many times before, now there is definitely something wrong.
And then Jesus says it.
“One of you will betray me.”
Is there anything else worse than betrayal?
The reason it hurts so much is because it has to come from someone you know and love.
A stranger cannot betray you.
Someone who hates you and always has cannot betray you.
Any negative action they take toward you is straightforward and honest malice.
But the definition of betrayal is being sold out and given up to an enemy by a friend, someone you love.
The central experience of betrayal is finding out that the person you love doesn’t love you back the way you thought he did.
And in response, you feel small and hurt and angry and alone.
You start to think, if this one big important thing was a lie, was everything else about our relationship a lie?
The way that John describes the scene is so thick with tension.
‘”Very truly, I tell you, one of you will betray me.” The disciples looked at one another, uncertain of whom he was speaking. One of his disciples– the one whom Jesus loved– was reclining next to him; Simon Peter therefore motioned to him to ask Jesus of whom he was speaking. So while reclining next to Jesus, he asked him, “Lord, who is it?” Jesus answered, “It is the one to whom I give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish.”’
The truth is so painful sometimes.
Jesus had all the power of the Divine with him. He surely could have turned things around, found another way, stopped Judas from taking this action and stopped the destruction of their friendship and the end of Judas’ life along with his own.
Endless books have been written on whether Judas had a choice in these events and whether he was treated fairly by God.
Did his own life and will not matter just because Jesus needed a mechanism to get arrested and be crucified?
Was he really a bad person acting out of his own free will?
Was he jealous and hateful and desperate to see Jesus humiliated and killed?
Or was he manipulated into becoming the synonym for betrayal for all eternity because somebody had to do it?
It adds another layer of pain to this entire scene.
I can’t pretend to understand God’s reasons or why Jesus allowed this to unfold the way it did.
My only guess as to why this happened the way it did is because Jesus never spared himself any of the pain that we go through.
In any awful situation in which we find ourselves, feeling alone and beaten down and wracked with pain, we will find that Jesus has not only been there before us, but is there with us in the midst of it.
Because the only thing worse than being betrayed, than finding out that someone we love is not the person we thought she was, is being the betrayer ourselves, finding out that we are not the people we thought we were.
It is our own fall from grace, our own experience of being driven from the Garden of Eden, our innocence lost to our own sinfulness.
The pain that we feel and the pain that everyone in that Upper Room felt in that moment is summed up in the last sentence of the scene: “And it was night.”
It is night. Tomorrow is Maundy Thursday, and the chain of events will begin that ends with Jesus final cry of betrayal on Golgotha, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
The situation is about to accelerate out of our control, and this is our last chance to get off the train and say, “I can’t do this, it’s too much for me. You all go ahead without me, I’ll meet you on Easter morning after it’s all over.”
But I’m here to ask you to stick with it.
Stand in the midst of this pain and be with it.
And I’m asking you to stick with it because I can’t do it on my own, none of us can.
Our only hope of getting through this is doing it together.
Because there is no way around betrayal and suffering and death.
There is only a way through it.
Until we allow the full pain of Jesus’ suffering and death into our hearts, we will never experience the full healing of the resurrection.
You can’t get resurrected from being very sick or very injured.
You can only get resurrected when you are completely dead.
Only by descending to the darkness and depths with him can we then climb up to bask in the glory of the risen Son.
What can we take away tonight from our story that is so hard to hear?
I think one of the most important lessons is in how Jesus chooses to answer the question asked of him.
The disciple whom Jesus loved—and remember, each one of you is the disciple whom Jesus loves—asks about the betrayer, ‘“Lord, who is it?” And Jesus answered, “It is the one to whom I give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish.” So when he had dipped the piece of bread, he gave it to Judas.’
What does that remind you of?
Jesus dips the bread in wine and gives it to his betrayer.
It is the tiny seed of hope that is the only bit of light in this story.
In the Eucharist, Jesus gives us himself, his very Body and Blood.
And here, rather than just identifying his betrayer and sending him away coldly, he reaches out to him and gives him his Body and Blood.
It is an act of pure, incandescent love.
Can you imagine finding out someone you love dearly has betrayed you fundamentally, and then your very next action is to give yourself to that person fully?
That’s what Jesus did.
And that’s what he does for us.
When we come to this altar, Jesus knows every sin we’ve committed, every time we’ve turned our back on him and hurt him by hurting our neighbors.
And his answer is to give us himself, his Body and Blood.
It is a promise.
By reaching out to us in love in the moment we’ve ruined it all and betrayed him, he is saying to us, hold on.
Just hold on and believe.
The next little bit is going to be painful and frightening and you will think the whole world is ending, but hold on and believe, because you will not be alone for long.
Let us take him at his word.
Let us come to the altar tonight and stand before him, knowing he sees us truly, we who are both his beloved disciples and his betrayers.
And then let us take him into ourselves in his Body and Blood, to strengthen ourselves for the journey of the next few days.
His Body and Blood is his promise to come back to us.
Let us receive it with our own promise, a promise to let go of our shame and believe, a promise to meet him on the other side.