Monday, March 21, 2016

Who Could Do Such A Thing?

Isaiah 50:4-9a
Philippians 2:5-11
Luke 22:14-23

“The one who betrays Me is with Me, and his hand is on the table.”  Luke 22:21

We know by what plays out that Jesus was referring to Judas Iscariot (Luke 22) as the “one who betrays Me”.  In that moment, however, the disciples were not aware that it was Judas.  They may even have had doubts about themselves and/or one another.  Sadly, however, we know how the story ends. 

Yet the story does not quite end at the Table – not for us.  The author of the Letter to the Hebrews essentially asks, ‘How many times can we betray Him?  How many times must He be crucified?’  (Hebrews 6:4-6).  And although the author seems to suggest that once we betray Christ after having “tasted the good word of God”, we may not be able to find our way back.  Yet we are compelled to embrace the call of our Holy Father to “seek Me while I may be found”; calling out to His people time and again in the midst of their own sorrow, I’m still here.

It is a little too easy to assign this drama to simply “God’s will”, for it cannot be said to be “God’s will” that Judas – or anyone, for that matter – to face the “woe” that is coming to the one who would dare to betray Jesus.  There is a lot more at stake than in only this single moment.

Jesus expressed the anguish He must have felt in trying to gather His people “as a mother hen gathers her brood under her wings … but you were not willing”.  So if our Lord expressed His anguish and His broken heart in such a way even before He was betrayed by His friends, how much more so the depth of His sorrow that as He broke the bread of the Supper to express what would become His broken body, He still looked His betrayer in the eyes.

As we prepare ourselves for the journey that is Holy Week, when the Scripture invites us to explore the broad weakness of humanity and the depths to which we often fall, we will soon find ourselves at the foot of the Cross and looking up into the sorrowful eyes of Jesus; and even while He struggles to breathe, He will utter the most profound prayer of His life on this earth: “Father, forgive them.  They don’t know what they’re doing”.

The reality of 2000 years of Christian history and teaching, however, denies us any legitimate claim of spiritual ignorance as it pertains to betrayal of our faith and our God.  I seriously doubt there are any among us seated in churches across the world who can honestly claim, “I didn’t know”.  “I didn’t know” my innocuous sin, my harmless “white lies”, my love for my stuff and my money (after all, are these things not blessings from Above?), my spitefulness against those whom I do not like, my greed against those in desperate need, my refusal to forgive those who had harmed me or slighted me; was doing any real harm, spiritual or otherwise.  And yet having “tasted the good Word of God”, ignorance is no longer a viable claim.  IF we have actually tasted it.

“How could anyone do such a thing” as betray our Lord, we ask as we read the Gospel accounts of that very betrayal, without realizing this story involves us all today?  We prefer Judas the scapegoat rather than ourselves.  I get that Passion Sunday and Holy Week are hard.  I get that when we are completely honest with ourselves, these events about to unfold demand more from us than we are often willing to give.  I get that it is much easier to jump straight from Christmas to Easter, and pay attention to only the “happy” stuff.  I get that we already have beliefs firmly entrenched in our minds and how uncomfortable it is to discover we may have not looked closely enough. 

Yet just as the birth of Messiah didn’t spring up from nothing, we cannot experience the Resurrection without first experiencing death.  And that, my friends, is the “castor oil” of the Christian faith; often ignored or overlooked.  It is bitter to swallow, but it is absolutely necessary for our spiritual well-being.  To follow Christ in discipleship transcends mere “belief”.  Discipleship requires, quite literally, that we model the very life of Christ in our daily living. 

As St. Paul wrote to the Philippians, having the mind of Christ means we do not regard our form (as the Image in which we are created) or our justification as something to be exploited, something to be used only for our own benefit, personal gratification, or sense of self-righteousness.  Rather, we are called to “empty” ourselves as Christ did, take the form of a slave as Christ did … and be willing to be obedient as Christ was – even at the cost of the life we once knew. 

For us this means death to our fleshly desires, death to our personal demands, death to our sense of entitlement in whatever form it may come … death to self.  That is, we as individuals cease to exist but become, instead, much bigger and more vital parts of the very Body of Christ.  This must become our identity, for this becomes our salvation … but not before we are prepared to persevere to the end (Matthew 10:22).

“Who could do such a thing” as to betray the One who challenged the repressive religious orthodoxy of His day?  To betray the One who, even within the Law, gave meaning to that very Law beyond “thou shalt not”.  To betray the One who did nothing more than to convey the eternal Truth that our Holy Creator and Father loves us with a love the depth of which cannot be measured by human standards?  To betray the One whose only “sin” was to challenge us to step outside of “self” and ultimately find real meaning in discipleship and living by giving ourselves completely to Him?  Not as a concept to be talked about only on Sunday but as the existential part of our being which we experience all day, every day.

An agnostic friend recently shared with me his utter dismay at how nasty this election season has gotten, and ironically made even nastier still by so-called “evangelical” Christians who convey nothing but fear, suspicion, anguish, and raw hatred!  The very things we claim to have been “saved” from are the very things that seem to be motivating us!  The word my friend used – regarding Christianity as he sees it – is “superficial”. 

That is, it seems to be only a “surface” expression, a cultural identity that has no depth, no meaning except what we assign to it ourselves as was expressed by Peter ("Lord, I’ll follow you to the bitter end”) without realizing Peter was not being entirely honest with himself.  I’m sure he meant it when he said it, but he nor the rest of the disciples had seriously considered what was happening, what was about to unfold, what was to become the full “cost” of being a disciple that has no personal privilege whatsoever.  The truth may be that though they certainly “liked” Jesus, they did not really believe Him.

“[The disciples] began to ask one another which one of them it could be who would do [such a thing as betray Jesus]” (Matthew 22:23).  The more honest question for us, given the currently perceived shallow climate of Christianity, is: who among us wouldn’t … for a little extra cash?  That is, of course, if we are willing to be honest.  If we are willing to literally walk with and follow Jesus and perhaps discover, to our own dismay, that the real “cost” of discipleship may be more than we are willing to bear.

“Who could do such a thing”?  The Lord our God willing, may we never have to find out the hard way.  Amen.

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