Holy Wednesday 2013

John 13:21-32

21After saying these things, Jesus was troubled in his spirit, and testified, “Truly, truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me.” 22The disciples looked at one another, uncertain of whom he spoke. 23One of his disciples, whom Jesus loved, was reclining at table close to Jesus, 24so Simon Peter motioned to him to ask Jesus of whom he was speaking. 25So that disciple, leaning back against Jesus, said to him, “Lord, who is it?” 26Jesus answered, “It is he to whom I will give this morsel of bread when I have dipped it.” So when he had dipped the morsel, he gave it to Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot. 27Then after he had taken the morsel, Satan entered into him. Jesus said to him, “What you are going to do, do quickly.” 28Now no one at the table knew why he said this to him. 29Some thought that, because Judas had the moneybag, Jesus was telling him, “Buy what we need for the feast,” or that he should give something to the poor. 30So, after receiving the morsel of bread, he immediately went out. And it was night. 31When he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him. 32If God is glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself, and glorify him at once

A young American woman, Laura has come to Mexico City in the aftermath of the Mexican Revolution in order to work for the revolutionary cause, in support of a socialist regime. She is a schoolteacher and also acts as a go-between for the local revolutionary leader, Braggioni, and his adherents. Braggioni has a personal interest in the lovely but cold young woman and he pays her nightly visits, hoping to seduce her. As the story opens, Braggioni is in Laura’s room, singing to her. It is the end of the day and Laura is tired, but she receives Braggioni’s attention politely, not wishing to offend the powerful man. ‘Where are you taking me, she asked in wonder but without fear. To death, and it is a long way off, and we must hurry, said Eugenio. No, said Laura, not unless you take my hand. Then eat these flowers, poor prisoner, said Eugenio in a voice of pity, take and eat: and from the Judas tree he stripped the warm bleeding flowers, and held them to her lips.’ (Katherine Porter, “Flowering Judas,” Flowering Judas and other Short Stories, 1930)


Delilah betrays Sampson to the philistines. David betrays Uriah to hide his sin. Absolom betrayed his father David to take over the Kingdom. Court officials betrayed Daniel because of his devotion to God.
Think Shakespear; King Lear, poor old King Lear. Or, Macbeth. That’s a good story about Betrayal. Why, even Disney loves Betrayal; Scar, Mufasa, Simba, the Lion King. Betrayal is not new or rare. it is, unfortunately, part of the human condition.

It’s not the actions of your adversaries that break your heart. For that it takes someone you really love, someone for whom you have let down your defenses. Betrayal is the work of someone upon whom you have counted. Betrayal is the work of the person for whom you have gone to the mat. Betrayal always bears the face of someone you trusted and someone for whom you would have done almost anything.

Betrayal is immensely selfish, but it is also brutally aggressive. One of the first things any of us learns about someone we love is how to cause that person hurt. The betrayer selfishly tells her or himself that the betrayal is somehow deserved because of a perceived slight by that person. In fact, the betrayer simply thinks about what he or she wants. In short, betrayal is the opposite of God’s love – which is selfless service.

I have begun tonight talking about human relationships, intimate, committed relationships, because it is the most comparable analogy to the relationship between God and His people. In the Old Testament, God is the husband of faithless Israel. In the New Testament, Christ is the bridegroom of His faithless Church. God gives Himself in love to His beloved, and the beloved responds with half-hearted commitment or outright betrayal. The problem for the beloved is selfishness. Betrayal is the opposite of God’s love – which is selfless service.

In a sense, it is always easy in Holy Week for us to talk about Judas’ betrayal. It is easy to see Satan at work in Judas’ life. In fact, it is easy for us to recognize the weaknesses of all of Jesus’ friends – failing to understand, falling asleep in Gethsemane, denying that one knows Jesus, and hiding away in terror as He is dying and then dead. But, of course, we know that Judas stands in a class by himself precisely because he sells out Jesus and then seals his betrayal with a final kiss.

Peter will be rehabilitated to become the leader of the twelve. Thomas will be rehabilitated with just one glimpse of the risen Jesus’ wounds. James and John will be rehabilitated to give themselves in humble service, and so on. But Judas will commit suicide unable to live with the truth about himself when his selfishness undeniably shows itself in the face of the crucified and dead Jesus. A friend of mine says, “Judas was the only one who never understood that he could receive forgiveness.”

A number of years ago comedian George Carlin used to do this routine about having grown up Roman Catholic and going to confession. He would laugh about Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount about looking at someone with lust as being already the sin of adultery. Carlin’s punch line would be that you could save yourself the bus fare by staying home since you had already committed adultery in your heart. Of course, Carlin’s routine was ridiculing both the notion of self-control and the notion of fidelity. ~ both of which are qualities disciples of Christ value.

In a way, Carlin’s humor is another way of saying: why not go ahead and be Judas? What does it matter anyway? Some may even note that with the proper contrition you’ll be forgiven anyway. Cutting to the chase: “Everybody is doing it anyway, Mom.”

In this Preparatory Service we not only to confess our sins before God and the whole company of heaven, but also throw ourselves upon God’s mercy in Jesus Christ. The rest of the story is the story of our rehabilitation with Peter, Thomas, James, John, and the others. Holy Week is not an encouragement to embrace the Judas in me and to love the Judas in me. How can I ever be content to remain in opposition to God’s selfless love? How can I ever be content to embrace betrayal as a way of life?

Not understanding grace prohibited Judas from denying himself, taking up his cross, and following Jesus. For disciples, even as imperfect as we are, it is what comes next. It is what every person who, because all of us are betrayers of one form or another, will learn again daily. The way of Christ is the way of selfless love, fidelity, and self-control, about which the Lord Jesus has so much more to show and to tell us tomorrow.

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