It’s About the Bread

Communion-breadScripture Passage:  John 13: 21-32 (Holy Wednesday)

After saying this Jesus was troubled in spirit, and declared, “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.” So when he had dipped the piece of bread, he gave it to Judas son of Simon Iscariot. After he received the piece of bread, Satan entered into him. Jesus said to him, “Do quickly what you are going to do.” Now no one at the table knew why he said this to him. Some thought that, because Judas had the common purse, Jesus was telling him, “Buy what we need for the festival”; or, that he should give something to the poor. So, after receiving the piece of bread, he immediately went out. And it was night.  When he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once.

(Sorry…Wednesday’s post is a little late!) We started this week with the account of the anointing of Jesus, a story that shows us what it means to extravagantly serve our Lord. Tuesday’s text was one that showed us the meaning of following Jesus, indeed what it means to “take up our cross”. And then today…no extravagant anointing, no taking up any crosses…just a prediction of a betrayal of the worst kind as the dark pall of death begins to enshroud our week.

This passage is indeed a difficult one. Look how it begins…”Jesus was troubled in spirit.” He knew. He knew that a friend would betray him. It made him angry and indignant. But, more than that…it had to hurt. That has to be one of the worst pains imaginable. Because…think about it…betrayal is not something that you do to a stranger. You do not speak of inadvertently cutting someone off in traffic as a “betrayal”. For, you see, betrayal…true betrayal…is a deep-cutting blade that that can only cut into the closest of relationships. As painful as it may be, betrayal only happens in the midst of true intimacy. And that is the most painful of all.  “Very truly, I tell you, one of you will betray me.” What? The disciples looked at each other flabbergasted. NOT one of us. (And even if it was one of us, it is certainly not I. Maybe him or him or him. But I KNOW it’s not me! I love you! You are my Lord!) So Simon Peter leans in…Jesus…come here…come on, you can tell me…who is it? And Jesus, with perfect parabolic eloquence responds…It is the one to whom I give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish. And then he hands it to Judas. Do quickly what you are going to do.  But the disciples didn’t get it. Well, of course not…because it really doesn’t make sense. So they began speculating. You know what I bet he really MEANT to say? He MUST have been telling him to buy something for the festival or to give something to the poor. (After all, just a few days ago, Judas was worried about the poor and why money was not being spent on them rather than on the extravagant anointing of our Lord!) NOW it makes sense. Because NONE of us could betray Jesus. And so the other disciples are removed from the betrayal, relieved of the blame.

So Judas leaves immediately. Even in the midst of betrayal, he is quietly obedient, knowing in his heart of hearts where he really belongs and is not going. And the passage ends as the darkness of night falls.  We know what happens after that. It was Judas who led the authorities to the garden a little way east of the walls of the city and it was Judas who signaled to them which of the men standing there in the dark was Jesus. It all changed with a single kiss as Judas’ lips graze Jesus’ cheek.

But I think, in all honesty, we may be a little too eager to jump on the “blame Judas” band wagon. After all, there is probably a little Judas in all of us. There are those times for all of us when we inadvertently choose the darkness, either intentionally or unintentionally. There are those times when our greed or maybe even our fears drive us to choose the security of wealth or the selfishness of our own preservation, fleeting as it may be, over trust in Christ. There are times when our own blindness toward others compels us to choose our own personal bread, rather than a community feast. And there are times when even our love for our Lord is so shrouded in the darkness of greed, and insecurity, and selfishness towards others that we once again hand him over to be crucified in our hearts. We all must ask the question “Is it I”? And we all must face the uncomfortable truth that sometimes it is.

And we know what happened to Judas. As the writer of Matthew’s Gospel accounts, when Jesus was condemned to death, Judas could not face himself. What had he done? And so he hanged himself, a victim of his own choices and his own action. And to this day, Judas lives on as the veritable poster child of the worst sin imaginable, known to all as the one who handed the Savior of the World over to be crucified. His name has literally become a noun, the description of the worst that one can do. Dante places him on the 4th level of the 9th circle of the inferno, hanging out for the ages in the bowels of hell between Brutus and Cassius, who conspired in the assassination of Julius Caesar. And we, like the other eleven disciples, breathe a collective sigh of relief that it was not us, that we were not the one that betrayed our Lord.

And yet, the story does not end there. With all respect to the 14th century Italian poet, I think he may have missed that. I do think that Judas ended up in hell, the worst hell imaginable, a self-imposed banishment from God, a place where he could not conceive that he would ever be forgiven because he could not forgive himself. So in that place with the blood of Christ on his hands, he saw no end other than his own.

I’ve read this Scripture many times. I’ve even preached on it a few. But this time, something else leapt off the page for me. (I love it when that happens!) I missed it before. It was the bread. Jesus said “the one to whom I give this bread.” The point is, he gave it to all of them. They were all betrayers but, more importantly, they were also all beloved.  I once heard Walter Brueggemann talk about the liturgy that we use for our Eucharist. Before we take the bread, before we take the cup, we confess. We name our sin. We name our betrayals. And then, we are told “In the Name of Jesus Christ, you are forgiven.” The words do not specify that we are forgiven if we are good or that we are forgiven if we’re only on the first couple of circles of Dante’s vision of hell. Nowhere does it say that we are forgiven of limbo or lust or gluttony but if we get to the fourth circle (which is greed) or below, we are doomed. Nowhere does it say that. And Brueggemann points out that with those words, with the simple words “In the Name of Jesus Christ, you are forgiven,” we are wiped clean, spotless, if only for a moment. Oh, but what a moment!

Because, you see, the good news is that God does not love us in spite of who we are; God loves us because of who we are—the betrayer and the beloved, the Judas and the one whom Jesus loved. God loved us before any human person could show love to us—a “first” love, an unlimited, unconditional love—loved us so much that when we are handed this bread, we are handed the real presence of Christ—all of us—the bumbling disciples, those unnamed people that were in the periphery of the picture that day, the beloved and the betrayer, and me. I, Judas, no matter what I do, am forgiven. That was the part of the story Dante forgot. Forgiveness is not payment for a job well done; it is our chance to start again.

Judas was there at the table. Jesus served him as one of his own. It still hurt. But God’s unfathomable grace and God’s forgiveness is bigger than our own selfish betrayal, bigger than any hell we could ever imagine or conjure up for ourselves.  You know, it’s about the bread…

And so, Madeleine L’Engle tells an old legend that after his death Judas found himself at the bottom of a deep and slimy pit. For thousands of years he wept his repentance, and when the tears were finally spent he looked up and saw, way, way up, a tiny glimmer of light. After he had contemplated it for another thousand years or so, he began to try to climb up towards it. The walls of the pit were dank and slimy, and he kept slipping back down. Finally, after great effort, he neared the top, and then he slipped and fell all the way back down. It took him many years to recover, all the time weeping bitter tears of grief and repentance, and then he started to climb again. After many more falls and efforts and failures he reached the top and dragged himself into an upper room with twelve people seated around a table. “We’ve been waiting for you, Judas. We couldn’t begin till you came.” (From “Waiting for Judas”, by Madeleine L’Engle, in Bread and Wine: Readings for Lent and Easter (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2003), 312.)

That is the crux. None of us are innocent. All of us are forgiven. Holy Thursday does not end in betrayal; it ends in love. Perhaps rather than trying to lay blame for what happened at the Cross, perhaps rather than using Judas as the scapegoat for all of our own sins, we should let the Cross be what it is—a place of healing, a place of reconciliation, a place of forgiveness, a place of life recreated. Because of the Cross, all of us are invited to the table and each of us, no matter who we are, no matter what we’ve done, no matter what we will do, is handed the bread. Each of us is the one to whom I give this bread.

In the Name of Jesus Christ, you are forgiven.

(In the Name of Jesus Christ, I, Judas, am forgiven.)

The body of Christ given for you. Take, eat, in remembrance of me.

The soldiers are there with their swords and lanterns.  The high priest’s slave is whimpering over his wounded ear.  There can be no doubt in Jesus’ mind what the kiss of Judas means, but it is Judas that he is blessing, and Judas that he is prepared to go out and die for now.  Judas is only the first in a procession of betrayers two thousand years long, If Jesus were to exclude him from love and forgiveness, to one degree or another he would have to exclude us all.  Maybe this is all in the mind of Jesus as he stands with his eyes closed, or possibly there is nothing in his mind at all.  As he feels his friend’s lips graze his cheek for an instant, maybe he feels nothing else…It is not the Lamb of God and his butcher who meet here, but two old friends embracing in a garden knowing that they will never see one another again. (Frederick Buechner)

We are journeying through Holy Week.  Things are changing and what we know will come is imminent.  But forgiveness is abundant.  We are all Judas’s.  What are the Judas parts of you?  What does it mean to be forgiven?  Have you forgiven yourself?  None of us are innocent.  All of us are forgiven.

Grace and Peace,

Shelli

 

 

 

It’s About the Bread

Communion-breadScripture Passage:  John 13: 21-32 (Holy Wednesday)

After saying this Jesus was troubled in spirit, and declared, “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.” So when he had dipped the piece of bread, he gave it to Judas son of Simon Iscariot. After he received the piece of bread, Satan entered into him. Jesus said to him, “Do quickly what you are going to do.” Now no one at the table knew why he said this to him. Some thought that, because Judas had the common purse, Jesus was telling him, “Buy what we need for the festival”; or, that he should give something to the poor. So, after receiving the piece of bread, he immediately went out. And it was night.  When he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once.

We started this week with the account of the anointing of Jesus, a story that shows us what it means to extravagantly serve our Lord. Yesterday’s text was one that showed us the meaning of following Jesus, indeed what it means to “take up our cross”. And then today…no extravagant anointing, no taking up any crosses…just a prediction of a betrayal of the worst kind as the dark pall of death begins to enshroud our week.

This passage is indeed a difficult one. Look how it begins…”Jesus was troubled in spirit.” He knew. He knew that a friend would betray him. It made him angry and indignant. But, more than that…it had to hurt. That has to be one of the worst pains imaginable. Because…think about it…betrayal is not something that you do to a stranger. You do not speak of inadvertently cutting someone off in traffic as a “betrayal”. For, you see, betrayal…true betrayal…is a deep-cutting blade that that can only cut into the closest of relationships. As painful as it may be, betrayal only happens in the midst of true intimacy. And that is the most painful of all.  “Very truly, I tell you, one of you will betray me.” What? The disciples looked at each other flabbergasted. NOT one of us. (And even if it was one of us, it is certainly not I. Maybe him or him or him. But I KNOW it’s not me! I love you! You are my Lord!) So Simon Peter leans in…Jesus…come here…come on, you can tell me…who is it? And Jesus, with perfect parabolic eloquence responds…It is the one to whom I give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish. And then he hands it to Judas. Do quickly what you are going to do.  But the disciples didn’t get it. Well, of course not…because it really doesn’t make sense. So they began speculating. You know what I bet he really MEANT to say? He MUST have been telling him to buy something for the festival or to give something to the poor. (After all, just a few days ago, Judas was worried about the poor and why money was not being spent on them rather than on the extravagant anointing of our Lord!) NOW it makes sense. Because NONE of us could betray Jesus. And so the other disciples are removed from the betrayal, relieved of the blame.

So Judas leaves immediately. Even in the midst of betrayal, he is quietly obedient, knowing in his heart of hearts where he really belongs and is not going. And the passage ends as the darkness of night falls.  We know what happens after that. It was Judas who led the authorities to the garden a little way east of the walls of the city and it was Judas who signaled to them which of the men standing there in the dark was Jesus. It all changed with a single kiss as Judas’ lips graze Jesus’ cheek.

But I think, in all honesty, we may be a little too eager to jump on the “blame Judas” band wagon. After all, there is probably a little Judas in all of us. There are those times for all of us when we inadvertently choose the darkness, either intentionally or unintentionally. There are those times when our greed or maybe even our fears drive us to choose the security of wealth or the selfishness of our own preservation, fleeting as it may be, over trust in Christ. There are times when our own blindness toward others compels us to choose our own personal bread, rather than a community feast. And there are times when even our love for our Lord is so shrouded in the darkness of greed, and insecurity, and selfishness towards others that we once again hand him over to be crucified in our hearts. We all must ask the question “Is it I”? And we all must face the uncomfortable truth that sometimes it is.

And we know what happened to Judas. As the writer of Matthew’s Gospel accounts, when Jesus was condemned to death, Judas could not face himself. What had he done? And so he hanged himself, a victim of his own choices and his own action. And to this day, Judas lives on as the veritable poster child of the worst sin imaginable, known to all as the one who handed the Savior of the World over to be crucified. His name has literally become a noun, the description of the worst that one can do. Dante places him on the 4th level of the 9th circle of the inferno, hanging out for the ages in the bowels of hell between Brutus and Cassius, who conspired in the assassination of Julius Caesar. And we, like the other eleven disciples, breathe a collective sigh of relief that it was not us, that we were not the one that betrayed our Lord.

And yet, the story does not end there. With all respect to the 14th century Italian poet, I think he may have missed that. I do think that Judas ended up in hell, the worst hell imaginable, a self-imposed banishment from God, a place where he could not conceive that he would ever be forgiven because he could not forgive himself. So in that place with the blood of Christ on his hands, he saw no end other than his own.

I’ve read this Scripture many times. I’ve even preached on it a few. But this time, something else leapt off the page for me. (I love it when that happens!) I missed it before. It was the bread. Jesus said “the one to whom I give this bread.” The point is, he gave it to all of them. They were all betrayers but, more importantly, they were also all beloved.  I once heard Walter Brueggemann talk about the liturgy that we use for our Eucharist. Before we take the bread, before we take the cup, we confess. We name our sin. We name our betrayals. And then, we are told “In the Name of Jesus Christ, you are forgiven.” The words do not specify that we are forgiven if we are good or that we are forgiven if we’re only on the first couple of circles of Dante’s vision of hell. Nowhere does it say that we are forgiven of limbo or lust or gluttony but if we get to the fourth circle (which is greed) or below, we are doomed. Nowhere does it say that. And Brueggemann points out that with those words, with the simple words “In the Name of Jesus Christ, you are forgiven,” we are wiped clean, spotless, if only for a moment. Oh, but what a moment!

Because, you see, the good news is that God does not love us in spite of who we are; God loves us because of who we are—the betrayer and the beloved, the Judas and the one whom Jesus loved. God loved us before any human person could show love to us—a “first” love, an unlimited, unconditional love—loved us so much that when we are handed this bread, we are handed the real presence of Christ—all of us—the bumbling disciples, those unnamed people that were in the periphery of the picture that day, the beloved and the betrayer, and me. I, Judas, no matter what I do, am forgiven. That was the part of the story Dante forgot. Forgiveness is not payment for a job well done; it is our chance to start again.

Judas was there at the table. Jesus served him as one of his own. It still hurt. But God’s unfathomable grace and God’s forgiveness is bigger than our own selfish betrayal, bigger than any hell we could ever imagine or conjure up for ourselves.  You know, it’s about the bread…

And so, Madeleine L’Engle tells an old legend that after his death Judas found himself at the bottom of a deep and slimy pit. For thousands of years he wept his repentance, and when the tears were finally spent he looked up and saw, way, way up, a tiny glimmer of light. After he had contemplated it for another thousand years or so, he began to try to climb up towards it. The walls of the pit were dank and slimy, and he kept slipping back down. Finally, after great effort, he neared the top, and then he slipped and fell all the way back down. It took him many years to recover, all the time weeping bitter tears of grief and repentance, and then he started to climb again. After many more falls and efforts and failures he reached the top and dragged himself into an upper room with twelve people seated around a table. “We’ve been waiting for you, Judas. We couldn’t begin till you came.” (From “Waiting for Judas”, by Madeleine L’Engle, in Bread and Wine: Readings for Lent and Easter (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2003), 312.)

That is the crux. None of us are innocent. All of us are forgiven. Holy Thursday does not end in betrayal; it ends in love. Perhaps rather than trying to lay blame for what happened at the Cross, perhaps rather than using Judas as the scapegoat for all of our own sins, we should let the Cross be what it is—a place of healing, a place of reconciliation, a place of forgiveness, a place of life recreated. Because of the Cross, all of us are invited to the table and each of us, no matter who we are, no matter what we’ve done, no matter what we will do, is handed the bread. Each of us is the one to whom I give this bread.

In the Name of Jesus Christ, you are forgiven.

(In the Name of Jesus Christ, I, Judas, am forgiven.)

The body of Christ given for you. Take, eat, in remembrance of me.

The soldiers are there with their swords and lanterns.  The high priest’s slave is whimpering over his wounded ear.  There can be no doubt in Jesus’ mind what the kiss of Judas means, but it is Judas that he is blessing, and Judas that he is prepared to go out and die for now.  Judas is only the first in a procession of betrayers two thousand years long, If Jesus were to exclude him from love and forgiveness, to one degree or another he would have to exclude us all.  Maybe this is all in the mind of Jesus as he stands with his eyes closed, or possibly there is nothing in his mind at all.  As he feels his friend’s lips graze his cheek for an instant, maybe he feels nothing else…It is not the Lamb of God and his butcher who meet here, but two old friends embracing in a garden knowing that they will never see one another again. (Frederick Buechner)

We are journeying through Holy Week.  Things are changing and what we know will come is imminent.  But forgiveness is abundant.  We are all Judas’s.  What are the Judas parts of you?  What does it mean to be forgiven?  Have you forgiven yourself?  None of us are innocent.  All of us are forgiven.

Grace and Peace,

Shelli

 

 

 

If I Could Turn Back Time

Judas BetrayalToday’s Lectionary Passage:  John 13: 21-32

21After saying this Jesus was troubled in spirit, and declared, “Very truly, I tell you, one of you will betray me.” 22The disciples looked at one another, uncertain of whom he was speaking. 23One of his disciples—the one whom Jesus loved—was reclining next to him; 24Simon Peter therefore motioned to him to ask Jesus of whom he was speaking. 25So while reclining next to Jesus, he asked him, “Lord, who is it?” 26Jesus 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 son of Simon Iscariot. 27After he received the piece of bread, Satan entered into him. Jesus said to him, “Do quickly what you are going to do.” 28Now no one at the table knew why he said this to him. 29Some thought that, because Judas had the common purse, Jesus was telling him, “Buy what we need for the festival”; or, that he should give something to the poor. 30So, after receiving the piece of bread, he immediately went out. And it was night.  31When he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. 32If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once.

Poor Judas!  We take this story so literally most of the time, pinning all the bad in all the world on the one that Biblical translations and exegetical interpretations have branded the betrayer, the bad seed, the evil one, the poster child for the worst sin imagineable.  In fact, Dante’ puts Judas in the fourth level of the ninth circle of hell, the lowest rung of the inferno, along with Brutus and Brutus’ co-hort Cassius.   Me?  I tend to err more on the side of mercy.  Because truth be known, don’t you think that Simon Peter was nervous when he was asking that question.  “Lord, who is it?”  In other words, “is it I”?  “Am I the one that will betray my Lord?”  After all, I’m not sure than any of the disciples really came to the forefront.  None of them stood out that night or the next day as glowing examples of who God calls us to be.  They were scared; they were unsure about their own well-being; and they were certainly unsure what life would hold next.  Maybe some had begun to figure out what was about to happen.  I think most of them were like us, living in some sort of state of denial thinking that we are doing the right thing and that everything will turn out alright.

And don’t you think that all of them, Judas included, looked back on the night the next morning and thought, “If only…if only I could turn back time.”?  (yeah, I know that’s a Cher song!) So why did Judas do it?  Oh, please, why do any of us do what we do?  We all have regrets; we’ve all made mistakes; we’ve all wished that somehow we could turn back time.  The truth is, there is a little Judas in all of us.  But in this same passage, there is another character introduced:  “the one whom Jesus loved”.   This is the epitome of light against the foil of Judas in his darkest hour as his actions usher in the time that brings Jesus’ presence as the light of this world to a close.  There is all kinds of speculation.  Was it someone that we don’t know?  Was it Mary Magdelene?  Or was it, perhaps, even Judas? 

Judas could not live with what he had done. The writer of Matthew’s Gospel says that Judas would end his own life that next morning.  (Matthew 27: 3-5)

When Judas, his betrayer, saw that Jesus was condemned, he repented and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders. 4He said, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.” But they said, “What is that to us? See to it yourself.” 5Throwing down the pieces of silver in the temple, he departed; and he went and hanged himself. 

And yet, Jesus, knowing what was about to happen, welcomed Judas to the table; in fact, Jesus welcomed all of them, that motley crew of misfits that never really could get it together and were always in competition with each other, that lot of sinners and saints.  The truth is we are all both–the betrayer and the beloved, the sinner and the saint.   God does not love us in spite of who we are; God loves us because of who we are.  The question that we should ask ourselves is whether or not we believe that anyone is ever beyond God’s redemption, beyond God’s love, beyond God’s power to pick up and recreate.  This night of betrayal does not end that way.  This night ends with love and with life.  Because, you see, when it’s all said and done, God really does turn back time.

Madeleine L’Engle tells an old legend that after his death Judas found himself at the bottom of a deep and slimy pit.  For thousands of years he wept his repentance, and when the tears were finally spent he looked up and saw, way, way up, a tiny glimmer of light.  After he had contemplated it for another thousand years or so, he began to try to climb up towards it.  The walls of the pit were dank and slimy, and he kept slipping back down.  Finally, after great effort, he neared the top, and then he slipped and fell all the way back down.  It took him many years to recover, all the time weeping bitter tears of grief and repentance, and then he started to climb again.  After many more falls and efforts and failures he reached the top and dragged himself into an upper room with twelve people seated around a table.  “We’ve been waiting for you, Judas.  We couldn’t begin till you came. (From “Waiting for Judas”, by Madeleine L’Engle, in Bread and Wine:  Readings for Lent and Easter (Maryknoll, NY:  Orbis Books, 2003), 312.)

Garden of Gethsemane, Jerusalem, 2010
Garden of Gethsemane, Jerusalem, 2010

So, as you walk through this week, remember that we are all Judas but, more importantly, we are all beloved.  And, remember, that God really does turn back time, so to speak, gathering all of us to the table and recreating us into the fullness of God’s vision for all.  But God cannot begin until you come.

“If I Could Turn Back Time” (Cher)

Grace and Peace,

Shelli

Station VII: Betrayed

Station 07-EScripture Passage:  Matthew 26: 20-23

20When it was evening, he took his place with the twelve; 21and while they were eating, he said, “Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me.” 22And they became greatly distressed and began to say to him one after another, “Surely not I, Lord?” 23He answered, “The one who has dipped his hand into the bowl with me will betray me.

The seventh station on the Via Dolorosa is Jesus’ second fall.  Marked by a Roman column housed in a Catholic Chapel, it is the traditional place where the Gate of Judgment stood.  This is the place where judgments were passed on those that had committed crimes.  And here, passing out of the city, Jesus falls again.  Though surrounded by a host of onlookers and curious tourists, he is alone, deserted and betrayed by those whom he had loved.  You can surmise that they were fearful for themselves, perhaps even fearful that there would be no one to carry the message into the future.  But let’s be honest.  They just weren’t there.  The night before, Jesus had dipped his hand into a bowl that others at the table would also touch and dip.  Jesus knew that the one who had dipped his hand into the bowl with him would betray him.

I know.  The story picks up with Judas right after the verses of Scripture that I used.  We like thinking of Judas as the poster boy of betrayal.  That’s an easy way out, to blame it on the most obvious perpetrator, the one who makes us all look like saints.  And yet, Jesus’ words as the writer of this Gospel portrayed them, says “the one who has dipped his hand…”  Think about it.  It was a community bowl.  ALL of those at the table dipped their hands in the bowl.  The truth is, Jesus probably knew that he would be alone on this day, that all would in their own way betray him–one by a kiss, one by a denial, and others by stepping back into their fears that they, too, might be found out.

Polish-born writer Isaac Singe said that “when you betray someone else you also betray yourself.”  The reason, I think, is because betrayal cuts so deep that you lose a part of yourself.  If someone asked you what the opposite of faith is, you’d probably immediately say doubt.  But, think about it, doubt compels one to search, compels one to question, compels one to grow.  Doubt and faith are inextricably intertwined.  The opposite of faith, the antithesis of faith, of journeying toward who you are called to be is more than likely betrayal.  It is completely contrary to “love your neighbor” as well as to “love God with [all you are]”.  Betrayal is a loss of who one is called to be.

And so Jesus falls, alone, defeated, betrayed.  He was feeling the ultimate of rejection.  All he had left was hope.  And so he breathed deeply and continued on.  And his betrayers cowered behind closed doors feeling a loss that they could not describe.  Surely not I…surely not I…surely not I.

In this Season of Lent, think of ways that you betray who you are called to be, ways that you cut yourself off from life, from others, from God.  Then, rise up, for you faith has made you whole.

Grace and Peace,

Shelli 

Et Tu, Judas

The Judas Tree

Lectionary Text:  John 13: 21-32
After saying this Jesus was troubled in spirit, and declared, “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.” So when he had dipped the piece of bread, he gave it to Judas son of Simon Iscariot. After he received the piece of bread, Satan entered into him. Jesus said to him, “Do quickly what you are going to do.” Now no one at the table knew why he said this to him. Some thought that, because Judas had the common purse, Jesus was telling him, “Buy what we need for the festival”; or, that he should give something to the poor. So, after receiving the piece of bread, he immediately went out. And it was night. When he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once.

Jesus knew who would betray him.  It was his friend, the one that had accompanied him as he traveled around the lake teaching, the one who had met his family, the one who on those long nights after those just-as-long frustrating days had listened to him.  In fact, it would be the one he trusted.  The one who held the purse that bought them small but nourishing meals and paid their way, the one that had figured out how to budget the money so that they could get to Jerusalem.  It was the one that had it together.  It was the last one that he would have thought would do this.  But Jesus knew who would betray him.  It hurt, hurt more deeply than anyone would ever know.  Et Tu, Judas?  Even you, Judas?

“Kiss of Judas”
Duccio di Buoninsegna (1308)

The others will never figure it out.  They are too busy trying to figure out who it is (and trying to make sure that it’s not them!)  Isn’t that what we do?  In an odd sort of way, this Scripture holds some degree of comfort for us.  After all, Judas is bad, SO bad that whatever it is we mess up can’t possibly be as bad.  And so the world blames Judas for all of our wrongs.  Because, if we make Judas look bad, then maybe we won’t look as bad as we know we might be.  Dante would place him in the fourth level of the ninth rung of hell.  Now let me tell you, that is NOT good.  According to Dante’s Inferno, Judas shares this rung with Brutus and Cassius, who played a part in the murder of Julius Caesar.  (Et Tu, Brute?)  We are no better.  As long as there is a Judas, we
                                                                                        are not the worst.

But, really, do you think God desires our innocence?  If that was the case, we might as well all hang it up right now!  The truth is, none of us is innocent.  Innocence died a really long time ago.  And, interestingly enough, God didn’t have any need to resurrect that.  God does not desire our innocence; God desires us.  God desires repentance, reconciliation, and redemption.  God calls us to turn toward God, be with God, and accept that gift of forgiveness that God offers us.  That’s all it takes.  If God wanted perfect people, I’m thinking God would have made them.  God would have populated the world with a bunch of stepford pod-people and things probably would have gone a lot smoother.  I don’t know…maybe God wanted better dinner conversation.  Maybe God desired a good story.  Or maybe, just maybe, God wanted us to choose God rather than being compelled by something other than ourself.  And so God offers forgiveness for whatever we’ve pulled in the past.  Barbara Brown Taylor, in Speaking of Sin, contends that it is sin that is our only hope.  Because it is when we know that we have failed, when we know that we have moved farther away from God, when we name what it is that stands in our way, that the doors will swing open with a force we never knew and all of a sudden, we find ourselves sitting at the table in a place that we did not think we deserved.  Isn’t God incredible?  So, why do we need to blame Judas?  We are all looking for God.  Sometimes we just make bad choices.  But God always offers us another chance.  Forgiveness is the starting point for change, the beginning of the rest of our eternity.

Madeleine L’Engle tells an old legend that after his death Judas found himself at the bottom of a deep and slimy pit.  For thousands of years he wept his repentance, and when the tears were finally spent he looked up and saw, way, way up, a tiny glimmer of light.  After he had contemplated it for another thousand years or so, he began to try to climb up towards it.  The walls of the pit were dank and slimy, and he kept slipping back down.  Finally, after great effort, he neared the top, and then he slipped and fell all the way back down.  It took him many years to recover, all the time weeping bitter tears of grief and repentance, and then he started to climb again.  After many more falls and efforts and failures he reached the top and dragged himself into an upper room with twelve people seated around a table.  “We’ve been waiting for you, Judas.  We couldn’t begin till you came.”[i]

Et tu, Judas!  Even you, Judas!  Even you!

The path now seems to fly beneath us
And our doubts get carried away
We begin to question if we are more apt
To follow or betray
We hear the story of Judas’ deed
And quickly jump to blame,
But more than that we have to ask
If we might have done the same.

So, in this holiest of weeks, look first at yourself and find those places that separate you from God, and then look to God.  The table is waiting.  We can’t begin till you come!
Grace and Peace in this holiest of weeks,
Shelli

[i] From “Waiting for Judas”, by Madeleine L’Engle, in Bread and Wine:  Readings for Lent and Easter (Maryknoll, NY:  Orbis Books, 2003), 312.

   

What Were You Thinking?

Today’s Gospel Passage:  John 13: 18-31a

I am not speaking of all of you; I know whom I have chosen. But it is to fulfill the scripture, ‘The one who ate my bread has lifted his heel against me.’ I tell you this now, before it occurs, so that when it does occur, you may believe that I am he. Very truly, I tell you, whoever receives one whom I send receives me; and whoever receives me receives him who sent me.” After saying this Jesus was troubled in spirit, and declared, “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.” So when he had dipped the piece of bread, he gave it to Judas son of Simon Iscariot. After he received the piece of bread, Satan entered into him. Jesus said to him, “Do quickly what you are going to do.” Now no one at the table knew why he said this to him. Some thought that, because Judas had the common purse, Jesus was telling him, “Buy what we need for the festival”; or, that he should give something to the poor. So, after receiving the piece of bread, he immediately went out. And it was night.

Judas…Judas…Judas…what were you thinking?  How could you betray Jesus?  What in the world could have compelled you to do that?  The truth was that all the disciples were wondering, “Is it I?”…”What in the world have I done?”  We all wonder the same thing.  The truth is that the disciples are us…diverse, bumbling, questioning, slow to get it, insecure, betraying, denying, regretting…they are us.  There’s a little Andrew in all of us.  There’s a little Peter in all of us.  And yes…there’s a little Judas in all of us.

The truth is that we’re not always right there with Jesus.  We come closer, we stray, we come closer still, we stray farther…  We figure out better ways for ourselves.  We make excuses.  And then when the cards are on the table, we, too, betray.  It’s hard to swallow, but it’s us.  But notice that Judas is right there at the table.  Jesus knew.  He knew who would betray him.  He saw the writing on the wall.  He probably could have avoided it by ousting Judas from the last dinner altogether.  But that’s not what happened.  Judas was there.  We all are there…betrayer and forgiven.  That is the story of our lives.

The point is…we don’t earn forgiveness.  It just comes.  We just have to realize that it comes.  In other words, we don’t have to be perfect people (well that’s a good thing!).  We just have to desire to be with God.  Don’t we all?  And when it’s all said and done, in that place called heaven or the afterlife, or however you imagine it, all of us Judas’s will be there together, surrounded by love, and grace, and unimaginable forgiveness.  After all (read yesterday’s passage), Jesus will be lifted up and will gather all of us in.  That is the message of the Cross…for the Judas in all of us.

Go this week, all ye Judas’…and know that you are forgiven!

Shelli

Betrayed and Beloved

Scripture Reading: John 13: 21-32
After saying this Jesus was troubled in spirit, and declared, “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.” So when he had dipped the piece of bread, he gave it to Judas son of Simon Iscariot. After he received the piece of bread, Satan entered into him. Jesus said to him, “Do quickly what you are going to do.” Now no one at the table knew why he said this to him. Some thought that, because Judas had the common purse, Jesus was telling him, “Buy what we need for the festival”; or, that he should give something to the poor. So, after receiving the piece of bread, he immediately went out. And it was night. When he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once.

Today’s lectionary Gospel passage begins with…”Jesus was troubled in spirit.” He knew. He knew that a friend would betray him. It made him angry and indignant. But, more than that…it had to hurt. That has to be one of the worst pains imaginable. Because…think about it…betrayal is not something that you do to a stranger. You do not speak of inadvertently cutting someone off in traffic as a “betrayal”. For, you see, betrayal…true betrayal…is a deep-cutting blade that that can only cut into the closest of relationships. As painful as it may be, betrayal only happens in the midst of true intimacy. And that is the most painful of all.

“Very truly, I tell you, one of you will betray me.” What? The disciples looked at each other flabbergasted. NOT one of us. (And even if it was one of us, it is certainly not I. I love you! You are my Lord!) So Simon Peter leans in…Jesus…come here…come on, you can tell me…who is it? And Jesus, with perfect parabolic eloquence responds…It is the one to whom I give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish. And then he hands it to Judas. Do quickly what you are going to do.

But the disciples didn’t get it. Well, of course not…because it really doesn’t make sense. So they began speculating. You know what I bet he really MEANT to say? He MUST have been telling him to buy something for the festival or to give something to the poor. (After all, just a few days ago, Judas was worried about the poor and why money was not being spent on them rather than on the extravagant anointing of our Lord!) NOW it makes sense. Because NONE of us could betray Jesus. And so the other disciples are removed from the betrayal, relieved of the blame.
So Judas leaves immediately. Even in the midst of betrayal, he is quietly obedient, knowing in his heart where he really belongs and is not going. And the passage ends as the darkness of night falls.

And, in all honesty, there is a little Judas in all of us. There are those times when we inadvertently choose the darkness, either intentionally or unintentionally. There are those times when our greed or maybe even our fears drive us to choose the security of wealth, fleeting as it may be, over trust in Christ. There are times when our own blindness toward others compels us to choose our own personal bread, rather than a community feast. And there are times when even our love for our Lord is so shrouded in the darkness of greed, and insecurity, and selfishness towards others that we once again hand him over to be crucified in our hearts. We all must ask the question “Is it I”? And we all must face the uncomfortable truth that sometimes it is. The question for us becomes: Are we more like Judas or more like the beloved disciple? The truth is, we are both. If we forget that we are like Judas, then we forget sin that always distorts our reality. If we forget that we are like the beloved disciple, then we are blocking the Spirit who makes everything new. We are the forgiven sinners as well as the created children, the betrayers and the beloved.

So where does that leave Judas? We still do not really have a clear answer as to the motivation that compelled him to betray Jesus. Maybe that’s not what matters at this point. Maybe we’re not even supposed to know. And yet, many people have spent the ages trying their best to condemn him. Dante would have placed him on fourth level of the ninth circle of hell, the lowest of inferno. I tend to err more on the side of God’s mercy.

Because, you see, the good news is that God does not love us in spite of who we are; God loves us because of who we are—the betrayer and the beloved, the Judas and the one whom Jesus loved. God loved us before any human person could show love to us—a “first” love, an unlimited, unconditional love. And here, in the midst of the shadows of this week, a light flickers in the darkness. Holy Thursday does not end with betrayal. It ends with love. It ends with life, whether we are the beloved, the ones who deny, or the ones who run away, and even for the Judas’s in all of us. So do not let your hearts be troubled. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness does not overcome it.

So go forth into the light–darkness and all!

Grace and Peace,

Shelli