On Wednesday, as the second half of Holy Week loomed, I looked at Jesus’ response to being betrayed by Judas and at how we often respond to the pain of being let down by someone we have trusted. Whereas we might withdraw or seek revenge, Jesus continued to be open with Judas. Jesus does the same with us today, though we often let him down.
The readings in the service were Psalm 70, Isaiah 50:4-9a, John 13:21-32. My reflection is given below:
I wonder, have you ever been let down by someone you trusted?
I can’t imagine there are many people who have not had that experience. We get close to people, we share aspects of our lives with them, our secrets, our hopes and fears, believing we have found a safe space in which to be vulnerable and honest. And then we find that what we have shared is used against us in some way. Maybe our precious secrets are shared with others, maybe we see those others laughing at us or hear them making snide comments. Perhaps the friend turns against us as a result of what we have shared. Perhaps we even find that our job or another relationship is in jeopardy as a result of our confidante not being trustworthy.
Occasions like this are a cause of huge pain. Betrayal destroys our trust in others. It may leave us wondering if we are actually able to judge someone’s character or if we are pretty useless at that and acted in a stupid way. We can be very, very angry and long to retaliate, to get revenge on the one who has treated us so badly. That wish for revenge can absorb all our attention. We may choose to withdraw from other people, vowing never to put ourselves in such a vulnerable place again. We almost certainly would not share anything sensitive with that so called friend again. If someone asked us what we might have done if we had known in advance this would happen, I suspect most of us would not have shared with the person in the first place.
Of course, we can’t see into the future. We make the best judgement we can on what we have seen of a person. Jesus, however, was different. In the gospels it’s mentioned several times that he knew what was going on inside someone; he could hear their thoughts; he understood their character and motivation. On the night before his death, Jesus knew who would betray him, thus leading to his death. As Jesus knelt to wash Judas’ feet, he knew what this disciple of his planned to do. He wasn’t indifferent to what was going on; we read that he was troubled in spirit by what he knew. However, he didn’t treat Judas differently from the rest of the disciples. We can tell this is true because Jesus’ announcing that someone would betray him led to consternation among the disciples. No one could work out whom he meant.
Unlike us, Jesus continued to share himself with Judas, sharing all his hopes and fears even though he knew what Judas was planning. We tend to pay most attention to Judas as the one who let Jesus down in a big way but actually the other disciples were hardly the best friends for Jesus to have around. Peter, James and John couldn’t stay awake to keep him company during the darkest hours of his life in the Garden of Gethsemane. One disciple did make an attempt to defend Jesus at his arrest but after that they all ran away except Peter and John. Peter denied three times that he even knew Jesus. Only John and the women stood by Jesus to the very end.
We might vow never to trust a person who let us down ever again or to get even in some way. However, when we follow the story through we are told that Jesus didn’t respond that way. He gave John the responsibility of caring for his mother. After the resurrection, Jesus restored Peter to fellowship and gave him the responsibility of leading the disciples. He gave his cowardly disciples the great commission, to go and spread the Good News throughout the world, in the face of huge opposition. Being betrayed, denied, left alone did not prevent Jesus from trusting those same people again.
We know that Judas was overcome by remorse and as a result hanged himself. I may be wrong, but I suspect that, had Judas had the courage to return to Jesus, he would have been forgiven and commissioned with the rest of the disciples as an apostle.
Jesus continues to trust those who let him down even now. We all let him down at times, probably many times. We deny we are Christian by our behaviour or our words or by being too frightened to own up to having a faith. We run away at times when things get tough. Unlike Judas, we never need to be afraid to return to Jesus and be restored to a good relationship with him. However many mistakes we make we are still included in the great commission to spread the Good News. One of the best ways to do that is to be generous and forgiving to those who let us down, to imitate the attitude of Jesus.
Jesus, like the servant in the passage from Isaiah, trusted God to be on his side and uphold and vindicate him which freed him from the need to retaliate; we can do the same: “I know that I shall not be put to shame; he who vindicates me is near. It is the Lord God who helps me; who will declare me guilty?”
Helene Milena – Lay Pastor