Words and actions don’t always line up—even with the best intentions.
In Matthew’s portrayal of the passion narrative, when Jesus confronts his disciples about his betrayal, Judas asks, “Surely not I, rabbi?” And Jesus replies, “You have said so.” It’s an odd back-and-forth that doesn’t show up in the other accounts. John’s account comes the closest to Matthew’s exchange. In that version, all the way back in John 13, Jesus whispers, “Do whatever you are about to do quickly,” and Judas runs out. But Matthew is the only one who gives us Judas asking Jesus whether it is true. I hear his words as half-way disbelief. “Did I really do this? Surly I didn’t really do this, did I? Was I mistaken? What happened?”
Only a few lines later, Jesus again confronts the disciples, saying, “You will all become deserters.” And Peter characteristically responds, “Not me!” Jesus confirms it, saying, “Truly I tell you, this very night, before the cock crows, you will deny me three times.” For me, the fascinating part is how earnestly Peter denies it a second time: “Even though I must die with you, I will not deny you.” But, of course, we know how the story goes.
Sometimes we deny what we know is true. Sometimes we confidently state what we believe will happen even though we have no control over what follows. To me, in Matthew’s passion, it feels like everyone other than Jesus is out of control. Judas careening towards betrayal. Peter skidding towards denial. All of the disciples hurtling towards desertion. Jesus alone walks in control. The journey ahead is one he not only accepts but chooses and even controls.
The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak. My heart wants to do what’s right, but the sin within me leads me to ignore even my heart’s desire. Often, of course, the Spirit enables me to take the right path, but sometimes the path isn’t mine to choose. Somehow, though, Jesus walks the path of suffering ahead so that my missteps might be redeemed. Peter and, I believe, even Judas find redemption in the strength and resolve of their rabbi. Like them, the redemption we look for doesn’t come from choosing the right path but from the one who did on our behalf.