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Wednesday of Holy Week
Verses: John 13:21-32

WILL YOU BETRAY ME, TOO?

Wednesday of Holy Week, 4 April 2007

John 13:21-32 [English Standard Version, © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers]

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

WILL YOU BETRAY ME, TOO?

In the name of the Father, and of the +Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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.

Some of us know what it is like to agree to marry and to plan excitedly for that day. We know what it is like to stare into the face of another and to utter vows of lifelong faithfulness and to see the other looking back and repeating the same promises. A small few know what it is like to almost immediately see this Jekyll and Hyde switch even on the honeymoon and to wonder if one has made a huge error in judgment about the person who just promised such undying fidelity. Others of us have this gnawing nagging intuition that something is not right, but it has to incubate over time until we have a name to go with the feeling – the word is “betrayal.”

Many years ago a bride courageously walked into the chancel of a church and faced the wedding guests that were assembled. She said: “I want to thank you for having come here today to celebrate what was to have been the most joyful moment of my life to this point. I am sad to say that there will be no wedding today. Last night my beloved groom slept with the maid of honor, my former best friend. I am sure you can understand why I can no longer go ahead with this marriage.”

Others of us have lived for years with another and thought perhaps we were just Pollyannaish about what marriage was supposed to be like. And yet deep inside we knew something was wrong but never would trust our feelings. Only much later and with the help of a skilled and objective friend we began to understand that we were being betrayed all along. For some of us the spouse never could commit to the marriage but played upon our own weaknesses to convince us the problem was all ours. For others the spouse’s betrayal was slow and almost imperceptible – like bleeding to death from a thousand small cuts.

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 today talking about marriage, 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 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.

In a sense, his humor was a nihilistic way of saying: why not go ahead and be Judas? What does it matter anyway? Cutting to the chase, it was like that old tired and obviously transparent teenage self-defense: “Everybody is doing it anyway, Mom.”

This Holy Week we are urged to see ourselves as Judas. The most poignant words will be at the Good Friday noon liturgy when we join the crowd in shouting “Crucify Him.” And then we tell the truth about ourselves when we sing: “I crucified Thee” (“Ah, Holy Jesus,” Lutheran Book of Worship hymn #123).

But the other part of Holy Week is not only to confess our sins before God and the whole company of heaven and to 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?

What Judas never learned, because he in suicide embraced opposition to God as the epitaph of his life, was to deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Jesus. It is what every loving spouse will embrace daily. It is what every loving parent of an underage child will learn again daily. The way of Christ is the way of selfless love, about which the Lord Jesus has so much more to show and to tell us tomorrow.

St. Paul gets the final word today about faithfulness. It is a description of being transformed by the love of God in Christ. Paul writes: “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20).

In the name of the Father, and of the +Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

©Samuel D. Zumwalt
szumwalt@bellsouth.net
St. Matthew’s Evangelical Lutheran Church
Wilmington, North Carolina

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