Lent 2019


Lenten Reflection: April 16, 2019

STM Lenten ImageJohn 13: 21-33, 36-38

There is an intimacy to both love and betrayal in this passage from John's gospel. When Jesus announces to the circle of disciples that one of them will turn on him, they immediately want to know which of them he means. They seem unsurprised at the possibility that Jesus would be betrayed, only uncertain as to whom among them might be the one to act.

The answer is given to the disciple who asks, but in no simple accusatory statement. Rather, Jesus offers Judas food. He accepts it, immediately leaves, and then there is darkness. This is the betrayal of the meal itself, breaking the circle of community and replacing the experience of blessing with the threat of violence to come. Yet the imminence of that violence leads Jesus to declare that “Now is the Son of Man glorified...,” and within that glory rests the promise of the Resurrection.

But not before one more betrayal, by Peter. There is the painful rhetorical question which Jesus asks of him: “Will you lay down your life for me?” Instead, there will be repeated denials. 

This passage is framed by treachery, then, and made even darker by the fact that the two verses which the lectionary omits here are those where Jesus gives the disciples “ a new commandment: love one another,” and assures them that they will be recognized as his disciples by doing that very thing.

But there is one gesture that reassures us that betrayal is not the final word, as the disciple “whom Jesus loved,” leans back against his chest in a moment that is an image of the new commandment, wordless.

At the conclusion of this Gospel, the author is identified by this single moment. 

And in this Gospel, Judas appears one last time, among the armed men who come to arrest Jesus, but there are no words or kiss. There is no flinging of the silver coins onto the Temple floor, no suicide. The betrayal is all in silence. 

Is there anything further for us to think of those failures in faithfulness that this passage contains? Do we ever fear that our own betrayals will leave us silent, in darkness? In the Tom Waits song “Down There By the Train,” there are images of unexpected redemption, one of them in the words “I saw Judas Iscariot carrying John Wilkes Booth.” How far do we dare to imagine that God's forgiveness extends?