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

Were You There in the Garden of Gethsemane?

The Garden of Gethsemane
February, 2010

Today’s Scripture Passage: Mark 14: 26-50

To read today’s portion of the account of the Passion, click on the below link:
http://bible.oremus.org/?ql=200418057

Those of us who know this story both love and fear this garden.  We dream about this garden.  We sing about this garden.  This is the garden of Jesus, this garden which is named “olive press”, an ordinary name for an ordinary place where the ordinary pours into the Divine, where Jesus’ Passion comes to be.  I’ve had the opportunity to visit this place.  It was one of the most profoundly moving places that I have been.  It is a holy space, a place that allows you to see beyond yourself, a space to breathe in the Divine.  Standing among the centuries-old olive trees, the past and the present spill together.  No longer is the garden an historic place; it is a place of the Divine, a place where the Divine begins to spill into the worst of what we do.

Traditional “Upper Room”
February, 2010

Jesus and the disciples had spent the evening together–talking and laughing and sharing in the community and the friendships that they had built.  And then Jesus had raised the bread and broken it and raised the cup and poured it and had said something about them being his body and his blood, his very essence.  But they were too busy to understand.  They loved Jesus.  He was their friend, their mentor, their confidante.  But they probably didn’t really understand what was about to happen.  And so they left the hot, stuffy second-floor room and, at Jesus’ suggestion, took a walk in the cool, arid night air.  They were probably thinking how much more comfortable this was than the dampness that they would have felt in Galilee.  They climbed down the outside stairs and headed toward the city gates.  And once outside the gates, they followed the dark path down Mt. Zion through the Kidron Valley and started up the Mount of Olives.  They crossed over the Palm Sunday Road where they had entered the city just a few short days ago.  If one could peer through the darkness, there were still palm leaves strewn about.  It really was just a short twenty minute walk.  And they came to the garden, the place of the Divine.  Isn’t it interesting that God always returns to a garden, returns to a place of wilderness, returns to a place of new life?  Isn’t it interesting that Creation stories begin in a garden and then spawn new life that no one imagined before?

The Garden of Gethsemane
February, 2010

As they entered the garden, the disciples collapsed under the olive trees, heavy with food and wine and good company.  And Jesus walked away, feeling compelled to pray alone.  He was not nervous about what was to happen.  He was ready.  He prayed that God would take the cup.  I don’t think it was a plea to end what was to come, but a point of resolve, a place of surrender.  “God, take this cup, it is yours.  It was always yours.  I have done what you asked me to do.”  Now is the time.

He returned to find the disciples sleeping.  Really?  Sleeping?  Tonight?  Are you kidding me?  Maybe that is the biggest challenge of discipleship–just staying awake, just staying attentive to God’s Presence and God’s Call.  But don’t you think Jesus wished that they were more ready, more ready to take on what they would be called to do?  He looked at the quiet of his friends, so peaceful, so drunk, so oblivious to what was about to transpire, and he knew that their lives would not be easy.  He knew that they would be called to be something that they were not ready to be. The truth is, God doesn’t create us ready; God creates us open to be.

But after a couple of returns, Jesus had had enough.  “Get up already!” he yelled.  Are you kidding me?  And then all of a sudden, everything changed.  Soldiers burst into the peacefulness brandishing newly-sharpened swords.  And with them was Judas.  Jesus was not surprised but the tears still came into his eyes.  Judas was his friend, his confidante, probably one of the smartest followers he had.  That is why he had given him the common purse.  Judas had so much potential.  But Judas was too smart for his own good.  He had it all figured out.  He thought he could manipulate the powers that be.  Now, the non-canonical Gospel of Judas would depict Judas’ act as a pre-conceived (and pre-ordained) plan.  I’m not sure about that.  I think Judas just screwed up.  I think he just resembled so many of us who fight like everything to control our lives.  I think he just thought that he knew better.  I think he possibly even thought that Jesus would pull it all out in the end and be depicted as nothing less than a great hero.  So Judas kissed him…the kiss heard round the world…the kiss that changed everything.

But, truth be known, it was too much for the sleeping friends.  And so they fled.  And Jesus, alone, already surrendering the cup, was ready.  There was no turning back.  The gates of Jerusalem had closed.

So, on this Tuesday of Holy Week, how would you answer? Were you there in the Garden?  Were you walking with your Lord or were you asleep?  And when it was all said and done, did you flee?  Or were you the one that betrayed our Lord with but a kiss?  Where were you?  Were you there in the Garden of Gethsemane?  And with this, what are you being called to do?  How are you being called to live?

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.