Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Having Someone Over for Dinner?

In the gospel accounts, Jesus betrayal is recorded in highly dramatic terms. In today’s gospel lesson (Luke 22:14-23), Jesus says to his disciples, “Behold the hand of him who betrays me is with me on the table.” Yet we never really get to see how Jesus feels about the betrayal. That’s something that probably lends itself to a myriad of dramatic interpretations and could be played out on stage in many different ways.

For some reason, I’m reminded this morning of the scene from The Untouchables, in which Robert De Niro, who plays Al Capone, walks around a formally set dinner table with a baseball bat. As he does so, he knows that one of the men at the table has betrayed him. “TEAM,” De Niro stresses, “part of a team.” Eventually, of course, he walks behind the man who has betrayed him and bashes his skull in with the baseball bat. The blood runs across the white table cloth, and the other guests look on in horror. Capone, it seems, had a temper.

But we never get to see how Jesus handles it. I wonder if he was discouraged. I wonder if he was angry. I wonder if he was purely sad at the loss of a good friend. We just don’t know. It seems pretty clear that, if he were angry, he kept it to himself. There was no explosion at the dinner table—no heated exchanges. Every time a gospel writer records Jesus conversation with Judas, it is always portrayed in calm, mysterious tones—“What you are going to do, do quickly.”

The dinner table is a particularly powerful place for this scene to unfold. Not only are the disciples gathered together for the Passover meal—gathered around the table as if a family—but they are sharing a common cup and passing plates between them. There’s a lot of intimacy at the table just as there is at most family dinner tables. What amazes me is that all of this emotion—betrayal, angst, sadness, concern, uncertainty, guilt—is gathered together in one room, and we never get to see much of it from Jesus. Barely anything at all. I enjoy imagining how he handled all of the feelings swirling around inside of him. But I think the real point is that even though he, fully human, must have felt as any of us would have, he kept everything under control.

Busy supper, holiday meal. That’s when I’m most likely to lose it at the dinner table. And not just over something huge like my best friend betraying me into the hands of those who will kill me. I’d lose it over the little things—like someone setting the table with the knife blades facing away from the plates or someone serving brie cheese even though it’s December. Jesus, of course, keeps his cool. There are more important things than getting upset. His closest friends are about to be ripped apart by his arrest and tragic death. The last thing Jesus wants to do is add to the chaos.

How can I remain calm? How can I learn to value relationships more than my own feelings? How can I see that the true consequences of my actions are far more important than anything that might have set me off in the first place?

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