Wednesday, April 1, 2015

In Control


Do you remember that scene in The Untouchables when Al Capone, played by Robert De Niro, is hosting a dinner for his lieutenants and walking around the table talking about baseball? He contrasts the role of the player at the plate with that of the player in the field. The former is a time for individual achievement, but the latter requires that he play as "part of a team." (I don't agree with that assessment of baseball, but that's another point.) Do you remember what happens next? Capone takes the baseball bat and bludgeons the back of the head of the guy who had been going behind Capone for his own profits, and a growing pool of crimson blood streams all over the white tablecloth. The audience can tell that other lieutenants, who cringe at the sight and sound and recoil from the advancing blood, got the message that Capone was in control.

Warning: this is graphic, but so is Holy Week. Still, it may not be suitable for younger people. Then again, neither is my blog.



I wonder if we get the message that John is trying to send us when he recalls the moment when Jesus confronted his betrayer at the dinner table (John 13:21-32).

While at supper with his friends, Jesus announces that one of them will betray him. Rather than keep it a secret, Jesus allows that news to disrupt their meal. All of the disciples are sent into a tizzy. "Who is it?" they ask. "Surely not I!" they object. Peter, desperate to know the truth, motions to the beloved disciple, who asks Jesus privately who the perpetrator is. Using code, Jesus reveals that it is Judas Iscariot.

Even more than that, John tells of the encounter as if Jesus' action was the precipitating element that set the betrayal in motion: "So when he had dipped the piece of bread, he gave it to Judas son of Simon Iscariot. After he received the piece of bread, Satan entered into him." That doesn't necessarily mean that Jesus caused evil to come upon Judas, but it does put Jesus in the driver's seat of the whole encounter--even his betrayal.

And that's the point. In fact, that's the point of the entire Passion narrative according to John. Jesus is in control. Jesus knows what will happen. He chooses what will happen. This is part of God's plan, and it is part of Jesus' plan. There are no accidents.

What does it mean to journey toward the cross and know that the cross is where God wants us to go? We don't walk the road with Jesus, hoping that somehow we will avoid the fate that awaits him and us. We don't imagine that the story could have ended any other way. In our tradition, we focus on John's account during Holy Week for that very reason. This is not an accident. It is not a tragedy. It is not a mistake. Jesus' journey always led to the cross, and ours does, too.

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