Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Wednesday in HW: Godfather Moment


On Palm Sunday, we heard Mark's version of the passion narrative, but, for the rest of Holy Week (except the Easter Vigil), we hear from John. In many ways, John's version of the Last Supper is dramatically different from that of the other gospel accounts. There is no institution of the Eucharist. Instead, as we will commemorate on Maundy Thursday, Jesus washes his disciples' feet. Also, instead of an abbreviated Upper Room encounter, John gives us a very, very lengthy farewell address by Jesus to his disciples. Finally, and particularly relevant to today's gospel lesson (John 13:21-23), the confrontation of Jesus' betrayer is recalled as a moment when Jesus was in complete control.

In Mark's gospel account, Jesus announces that he will be betrayed, but no hint is given in the Last Supper scene as to who it will be. In Luke, Jesus says even less about his betrayer, and no one seems to know who it is. Matthew portrays a similar revelation by Jesus, but, when Judas asks, "It's not me, is it, Rabbi?" Jesus replies, "You have said so." In all three synoptic accounts, we read about Judas' treachery before the disciples get to the Last Supper, and, in all three, Jesus announces his upcoming betrayal without revealing who the traitor is. But John does something very different.

In John, Jesus is always in complete control. Before the foot washing begins, John tells us that "the devil had already provoked Jesus" (13:2), but, as soon as those words are written, John reminds us that "Jesus knew the father had given everything into his hands" (13:3). Later on in chapter 13, when Jesus announces he will be betrayed, he identifies to the Beloved Disciple that "It's the one to whom I will give this piece of bread once I have dipped it into the bowl." Then, when Jesus dips and hands the bread to Judas, "Satan entered into him." Surely John doesn't want us to think that Jesus is the one who commanded Satan to enter into Judas, but we're still left with a Jesus who is in complete control of his own betrayal. The drama and symbolism feels like it could be a scene from  The Godfather.

But that's not where today's reading stops. In this Holy Week encounter, the next sentence, which begins a new section of this Last Supper scene, is linked to the betrayal: "When Judas was gone, Jesus said, 'Now the Human One has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him.'" The glorification of Jesus comes through his death, and his death comes because of his betrayal. In a way that defies simple causality, Judas' actions lead to Jesus' glorification. God takes the evil that Judas brings and uses it for good.

It is easy to condemn Judas. Jesus himself, in most of the gospel accounts, remind us that it would have been better had he not been born at all. But our instinct to write off Judas as the evil character with whom we have no connection denies us an opportunity to see how God take the evil we bring and uses it for good.

I don't like the sermon that invites the congregation to think of their sins as the nails that fastened Jesus' body to the cross. That overpersonalizes it. And it focuses too much on the contribution and punishment and not enough on the result. As we read in John 13, Judas' treachery becomes Jesus' glory. Our failure--betrayal, denial, desertion--is transformed into God's glory. God takes what is weak and broken and uses it as a channel for his transformational power.

Because of that, Judas may be the most interesting character in the New Testament. If I were the director of this film, he would be the character I wanted to explore most fully. If we can get past the post-Easter spin that the New Testament authors provide, we discover a man who, like us, falters and whose faltering, because of God's grace, becomes wrapped up and overcome by God's glory.

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