Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Judas: faithfulness to turning away

Gazing across the table Judas watched in fascination as Jesus stripped off his outer robe. Taking a towel he wrapped it around his waist.


Judas wondered what he was up to now. No doubt there will be another lesson here.

There was always a lesson with Jesus - another thing to learn, another mysterious statement, another parable. Everything with him was, well, so deliberate, as if everything hinged on the next word which came out of his mouth. It was always life and death and it had become so confusing for Judas, so dangerous.

As Jesus took the bowl and towel Judas was reminded of the Samaritan woman at the well. Jesus shouldn’t have spoken to her. It was just wrong. It was unclean and Jesus had kept drawing the disciples in and spiralling them down, down, down into his well of intrigue and mystery.

Something had to be done; someone had to bring some common sense to the situation. Surely not everything the Pharisees and Scribes said was wrong; they were the leaders after all... people chosen by God.

Judas knew the Temple authorities wanted to bring Jesus in for questioning; it had been playing on his mind and weighing on his heart. Was this the right time for Jesus to rise as the Messiah? Maybe if the authorities listened to Jesus, listened properly, they would see sense and back his claim to be the Messiah.

Judas believed in Jesus claim, he would not have kept following if he didn’t. But the stakes were all askew; the risk of losing Jesus into some unpopular obscurity was growing. Maybe, just maybe if they questioned Jesus, they would see sense and follow Jesus too. Then the Romans would really know the power of God – wasn’t this what the scriptures promised the Messiah would do, restore Israel.

But who would let the authorities know where Jesus was? How could the situation be brought to a head? How could Jesus be forced to play his cards more openly and be the Messiah they all wanted him to be?

Judas pondered these questions as Jesus began to wash John’s feet.

John was Jesus favourite, the most loved of the disciples. Yes Peter was their leader, but John and Jesus there just seemed to be a special bond.

Judas caught himself thinking I wish I was that close to Jesus. He remembered the day that Jesus had invited him to be a disciple, to follow, to join, to learn. He had felt special that day and many times since, but he had also grown to feel he was not part of the inner circle.

So often he didn’t quite get what Jesus was on about that’s why Judas had been siphoning away some of the funds, just in case things went south. After all Jesus’ attitude at Lazarus home when Mary wasted that perfume on his feet was simply irresponsible. Jesus had rebuked Judas criticism of the waste.

But Judas wasn’t the only one who struggled with Jesus actions. As he surveyed the others around the table Judas remembered how imperfect they were as well. Even James and John jockeyed for power, as if they were not favourites already. As for Peter he was always questioning what Jesus was up to – once Jesus had even called him Satan.

Just as this thought struck him across the room Peter began arguing with Jesus, again. Peter didn’t want Jesus washing his feet. Judas tried to concentrate as Jesus words about what he was doing seeped into Peter but as always his words seemed elusive, more images and ideas than concrete reality. What did he mean that ‘not all of you are clean’?

The Messiah was supposed to be leading them into power not grovelling at their feet. It just felt wrong.

Jesus moved around the room and came to Judas feet. Tired of being confused Judas stretched out submitting to Jesus’ humble act and let him wash his feet. It was normally the task of a slave but Jesus had kept going on and on about serving others. As Jesus dried off Judas’ feet with the towel around his waist, Judas felt a sense of relief, a release even. It was more than having the grime of the day washed off. Maybe it was simply that the awkwardness of the act was over, but Judas felt as a weight had been lifted.

Finally, Jesus settled again, washing so many feet took time and they were hungry. He kept speaking; he was always speaking, always teaching, but in these last few days even more so as if things were coming to a head.

Judas recalled that the disciples had tried to warn him off a return to Jerusalem but Jesus wouldn’t listen and even now he was speaking in riddles about his demise.

‘The one who ate my bread has lifted his heel against me.’

What did that mean? They had all broken bread with Jesus, they were all his companions!

To Judas, Jesus seemed particularly agitated this night and lying as close as he was to Jesus, just beyond John, he could almost feel Jesus troubles weighing on him as well, he felt like reaching out and taking Jesus hand... a sign of support maybe or reassurance. Judas wondered what the others would think about him doing this so he held back and waited.

Jesus had gone quiet and the disciples cast glances at each other. Judas too looked at the faces of the others.

He could sense their emotions: fear, expectation, curiosity, trepidation and more than a little confusion, but something else too, love. They were an intimate group, they had become close friends on the road together and they looked to Jesus to lead.

Judas had looked to Jesus too; he still wanted to, he wanted to believe in Jesus. He looked at Jesus across the table and their eyes locked for just a moment, a moment which seemed to unfold into eternity for Judas. It was as if he was standing naked before Jesus and Jesus could see his soul.

Judas knew he couldn’t hide his doubts or fears from Jesus, he knew at that moment that Jesus had seen Judas struggle with how to bring things to a head, of how Judas had become more and more confused and disillusioned with Jesus as the Messiah that wasn’t taking God’s people to the glory that he expected. The moment was but a glance but Judas felt as if it were a lifetime, so he dragged his eyes away and cast them down.

A wash of pain seemed to come over Jesus face as Judas looked down and he declared, “Very truly I tell you, one of you will betray me.”

Around him Judas more felt than saw the disciples looking at one another, suspicion and fear growing in the room to an almost palpable level. Judas fixed his stare at the bread in front of Jesus, it was better than looking into anyone’s eyes.

Peter was gesturing at John, who then leaned back into Jesus chest. John whispered a question but because Judas was close he heard the question too. “Lord who is it?”

As Judas continued to fix his gaze on that bread in front of Jesus, Judas wondered too, wondered if the others had heard the question, wondered who was going to hand Jesus over to the authorities, wondered what would happen if Jesus was handed over.

Secretly this is what Judas had wanted wasn’t it – someone to hand Jesus over so things would come to a head, so that God’s will would be done – that the Messiah would shine for all the world to see.

Jesus replied, “It is the one to whom I give the piece of bread when I have dipped it into the dish.”

Judas who had been gazing at the bread watched as Jesus hand took the bread from the plate and dipped it into the bowl. Who? Who will take on this dreadful responsibility?

And Jesus reached out his hand offering the bread to Judas. Judas thought to himself, the Lord has broken bread for me, we are companions, I must take this bread and I must eat.

As Judas felt the touch of Jesus hand as he was receiving the bread Jesus said under his breath “Do quickly what you are going to do.” There was pain and fear in Jesus words, but trust as well, hope and acceptance as if things were fait accompli.

At that moment Judas knew it was he who had to go against Jesus, he had to go and let the authorities know where Jesus was, he would change the course of what it meant to be faithful by being faithful and obedient to Jesus words to do quickly what he was going to do: to turn away. Surely Jesus knew what he was doing sending him out in such a way.

With a new hope in his heart that Jesus would be the Messiah he had always dreamed Jesus would be Judas left the room and went out into the night. But despite the fullness of the moon and Judas illusory hope a blackness descended around him, a fear and trepidation, which he wore like a cloak as he scurried towards the temple – faithful he believed to Jesus words he would “do quickly” what he was going to do –this dark and terrible thing to betray Jesus.

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