Today's lectionary reading: Isaiah 50:4-9a; Psalm 70; Hebrews 12:1-3; John 13:21-32
Passage selected for reflection: John 13:21-32 (NIV)
After he had said this, Jesus was troubled in spirit and testified, “Very truly I tell you, one of you is going to betray me.”
His disciples stared at one another, at a loss to know which of them he meant. One of them, the disciple whom Jesus loved, was reclining next to him. Simon Peter motioned to this disciple and said, “Ask him which one he means.”Leaning back against Jesus, he asked him, “Lord, who is it?” Jesus answered, “It is the one to whom I will give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish.” Then, dipping the piece of bread, he gave it to Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot. As soon as Judas took the bread, Satan entered into him. So Jesus told him, “What you are about to do, do quickly.” But no one at the meal understood why Jesus said this to him. Since Judas had charge of the money, some thought Jesus was telling him to buy what was needed for the festival, or to give something to the poor. As soon as Judas had taken the bread, he went out. And it was night.
When he was gone, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man is glorified and God is glorified in him. If God is glorified in him, God will glorify the Son in himself, and will glorify him at once.
This text stops me in my tracks and arrests my attention. In this Lenten walk we are on toward Good Friday, in the waiting in the midst of death as we prepare for the resurrection life of Easter, this story of Jesus with his disciples at the last supper teaches us that there is still much happening within the waiting - being drawn toward intimacy with Jesus, or being tempted toward betrayal in the darkness.
In this reading we find Jesus reclining, up close and personal, enjoying food, community, rest, and sharing last reminders with his closest friends, savoring every bit of goodness at his last meal with the disciples before the cross. Those he is closest to lean on him, in tenderness and familiarity, with trust - it’s a scene of community, fidelity, and faith. Yet this is also messy, in between, waiting space. Jesus knows that next comes suffering; that his friends now faithful will soon fall asleep, flee the cross, forget the miraculous signs they witnessed; that one of his closest companions will betray him for a lumpy bag of silver. Jesus knows - and yet he remains, he waits, he chooses tender presence, he points to glorifying God. Even before the new life of Easter is obvious, visible, or has interrupted the way things are. He could have struck Judas dead or exposed him, or tried to rig the next scene to avoid the unfair suffering coming. But instead of control, Jesus chooses to trust what God is doing. Instead of arrogance he names the truth, even if others don’t catch on. Instead of isolation he chooses community.
Judas reminds me that in our walk of faith we have choices and we are capable of walking out into the darkness, even right after we’ve enjoyed the warmth of being by Jesus’ side. What called Judas out from that community of loyalty toward death? Was it greed, fear, his own wounds, a sense that he would miss out if he didn’t secure his own future? Or did he just get numb, desensitized, become simply an easy target for the powers of death that whisper to do things our own way and make life easier? Are we so different from the villain in the story, or could any of us be Judas on any given day, if we leave the warmth of intimacy with Jesus for whatever else beckons?
I don’t see Judas as a cautionary tale, but rather the truth-telling of what happens to all of us when we let fear, control, our own pain, or the not-truth that wriggles into our minds and spirits get the best of us. I have to fight against this every single day, and know that naming this reality, seeing that temptation toward movement away from Jesus, is not so much about guilt, but is an invitation. We are invited to intimacy with Jesus, in every mess we are in, invited to be sustained as Jesus was through trust, truth, and community. How will you and I choose in the waiting, in the unknown, before the clarity of Easter morning dawns?
The unwritten power at work underneath this whole story is of course the power of the living God, the power that would bring life from death, triumph from shame, liberation from fear. The forces at work that pulled Judas into the night, that would make the disciples forget at the cross, these forces prowl at our doors today - the multiple pandemics at work, loss and pain, injustice and oppression, the gaps in the church and in our own lives - in the midst of all these and more, we can always choose the intimacy of trusting Jesus. It’s there that we hear the truth, even if others don’t recognize it. It’s there that we are fortified to walk toward our call, whatever our own next unique steps. It’s there as we recline back on the powerful name of Jesus, knowing we are not alone, remembering that we have been empowered and authorized by One who waits with us in the mess, the in between, and who always brings new life.
What are you waiting for, fleeing from, or tempted by in this season?
What reminds you that Jesus is always with you, empowering you, in the waiting?
God of the resurrection, in our thin and worn out places we cry out - meet us in the mess Oh God! Meet us in all of our need, questions, fears and wounds, gather us up into your presence, your truth, your justice, and your redemption. We wait on you God, help us to wait on you. Amen.
About the Author
Rev. Dr. Liz Mosbo VerHage is the Pastor of Formation and Justice Ministries at Quest Church in Seattle, WA, and is also an adjunct professor, clergy coach, church consultant, and writer/speaker on topics such as healthy leadership, spiritual formation, racial justice, reclaiming the mission of the church, politics and faith, and strengthening urban ministries. She currently lives with her husband and 2 kids in the Seattle area after ministry in Chicago and Minneapolis. She writes at www.livingtheology.org.