Today’s gospel lesson (John 13:21-32) goes one sentence further than I expected it to. But by doing so, it’s made all the difference.
In John’s gospel account, there isn’t as much secrecy about who will betray Jesus. In the other versions of the story, who the betrayer isn’t as public. In this account, Jesus tells John that the person he gives this piece of bread to is the one, and then he clearly gives the piece to Judas. For whatever reason, though, the disciples at the table still don’t completely get it. They think that maybe Judas got up and ran out to go and buy some provisions for the Passover feast. Or maybe they just can’t believe what Jesus has just told them.
When I get to the last line of this gospel lesson, however, I’m as clueless as the disciples. As soon as Judas has left the room, Jesus’ response is to say, “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.” For Jesus, the connection is clear. Judas’ departure and betrayal are the means by which God is glorified. That is, Jesus’ upcoming passion and death are the way that God will glorify himself and his son. That makes sense, but I wouldn’t have been so bold as to say that the betrayer himself makes that happen.
I like to look for evidence of God’s will in a particular circumstance, but that doesn’t mean I’m always able to find it. In this story, however, Jesus shows a remarkable ability to name the instrument of treachery as the instrument of God’s glorification. In this gospel lesson, God isn’t just sitting back, waiting on us to give him our worst so that he can then take it and transform it by his will. Instead, he is directing and guiding each action—as if every move on the chess board of life is his plan.
The early church had to figure out what to do with Judas. There would have been a lingering question: “If Jesus really was God’s son, why would he have picked Judas to be his disciple?” This story is the answer. For God to be glorified through Jesus’ death, someone must have given him over to death. Judas is that someone. We can denigrate his memory by saying he used to steal from the purse or that he went out and hung himself. But Jesus himself seems to redeem even his betrayer.
Does God have his hand on evil acts? Maybe a better question is this: what is evil, really? Or maybe an even better question is this: can anything—good or bad—escape God’s will?