Lent 2018: Jesus’ Last Week
Judas at the Table
March 4, 2018 (Lent 4)
Text: Matthew 26:14-21
Judas was at the last supper – and Jesus already knew Judas had betrayed him. Let that sink in for a moment. If you knew one of your close friends had already betrayed you, had been colluding with your enemies to arrange your death, would you welcome them to Thanksgiving dinner? Would you seat them so close you can share a finger bowl? Our would you seek to cut them out? Cut them off? Tell them the wrong location for the dinner, or the wrong time? Lock the door and make sure nobody let them in? Arrange for a convenient accident?
Jesus also knows Peter will deny him. Yet Peter is there. Thomas would doubt the resurrection. Yet Thomas is there.
In my private devotions during Lent, I’ve been praying the psalms traditionally assigned to the final week of Jesus’ life. As I pray I try to put myself in Jesus’ footsteps, using the language of the psalms to transport myself back to a time, place and situation far removed from my own. To try to sense what Jesus may have been feeling.
From Psalm 31 I prayed:
My times are in your hand;
Deliver me from the hand of my enemies
from my persecutors (Ps. 31)
From Psalm 36
Do not let the foot of the arrogant tread on my
Or the hand of the wicked drive me away (Ps. 36)
From Psalm 70
Be pleased, O God, to deliver me
O Lord, make haste to help me!
Let these be put to shame and confusion
who seek my life. (Ps. 70)
In my experience, most people facing death begin fading away, withdrawing into their own personal, psychological and spiritual space. Those who feel threatened by death tend to run, to fight, to hide. Yet Jesus lives his last week in the open. As he teaches in the temple he dialogues with the same Pharisees who seek his crucifixion. The same temple authorities who buy Judas’ betrayal ask him questions he gladly answers. Pharisees, temple authorities, Jesus, the disciples all converse under the watchful eyes of the same Roman soldiers who will lift him on the cross. And then, at diner, Jesus shares a bowl with the same disciple who will lead the mob at his arrest.
How true it seems when the Psalmist says:
Those who watch for my life consult together
They say, “Pursue and seize that person whom God has forsaken (Ps. 71)
Jesus never hides. He never runs. His enemies seek him out and he welcomes their presence. In the gospel of John, Jesus washes Judas’ feet, calls out his betrayal and then, instead of cursing Judas, Jesus seems almost to encourage him. “Do quickly what you are going to do.”
As Jesus’ enemies circle in we find Jesus defined by words spoken at the beginning of his ministry:
You have heard it said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. For your Father in heaven makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.
We find Jesus – God with us – defined by the very essence of divine being:
A God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. A God who is love.
If I knew a friend was about to betray me, I don’t think I’d be able to sit comfortably with my friend and eat dinner. I’d be too angry, too afraid. If I knew someone was plotting to kill me, I think I’d either get an army or hide. I’d want to protect my own skin. I’d want to inflict damage on them before they inflicted damage on me. But if we’re hiding, if we’re concerned about protecting our own skin, if we’re concerned about settling a score, then we can’t love. And if we can’t love, we can’t give our enemies the gift of our presence, the gift of meeting Christ through us.
The more time I spend immersed in Jesus’ last week, the more I realize Jesus is showing us how to live without fear. Without fear of our enemies. Without fear of death. And I wonder what my own life would look like, would feel like, if I also lived without fear; if I wasn’t afraid to die.
I ponder this knowing in some ways fear is good for me. Fear of death leads me to put on my seat belt and take my blood thinner. Fear of the undertow and rising tide kept me safe growing up along the New England coast.
But I also work really hard to surround myself with people I like, people whom I enjoy, with whom I feel safe. Unlike Jesus, I limit whom I welcome to my table, depriving them of the gift of experiencing Christ in me; depriving me of the gift of experiencing Christ in them. Unlike Jesus I adjust what I say, what I wear, what I do, who I strive to be, fearing others might not like me or respect me. And, on a societal level, I suspect a range of fears lead to a range of unhealthy choices around a range of concerns – from medical care, to guns, to national security, to immigration to human rights to economic and political justice. We are scared people. I am a scared person. And when we’re scared, it becomes very hard to love, it becomes impossible to be at peace, very hard to experience resurrection.