Living with Betrayal
Jesus is eating the Passover Meal with his disciples when he drops his bombshell, “One of you will betray me.” It’s not the first time he has mentioned this: but never before has he been so specific: one of those in the room right now is a traitor.
Consternation grips the disciples as they look around at each other. Peter catches the eye of John, sitting next to Jesus, and covertly signs, ‘Who? Ask him!’ John whispers in Jesus’ ear, and he whispers something back. Only Peter knows of this exchange; but it seems that John is still in the dark. Tension fills the room.
Then Jesus takes a morsel of bread, dips it in the dish, and hands it to Judas, who must also have been sitting close by. When Jesus follows this by telling Judas, “What you have to do, do quickly,” and Judas rises to leave, does John try frantically to signal Peter, ‘It’s him!’?
We don’t know: but we do know that, even now, the other disciples don’t suspect Judas. He is their treasurer. And, In the culture of Jesus’ day, if a host personally handed such a morsel to a guest that was an gesture of love and high regard. There is nothing in Jesus’ treatment of him to suggest otherwise: so they simply assume he’s going for supplies, or taking a gift to the poor.
What really amazes me
That Jesus should treat Judas with such love and respect whilst knowing that Judas was about to betray him, is indeed amazing. But it is not the most amazing thing about this incident. In John 6, verses 64 and 70-71 we read that “Jesus knew from the beginning who they were who didn’t believe, and who it was who would betray him.”
What really astounds me is the fact that Jesus could live with this close-knit band of followers for around 2 years knowing that Judas would ultimately betray him. Yet, in all that time Jesus did and said nothing that gave the other disciples any clue that he felt either reservations or lack of love towards Judas.
Betrayal is so hard to bear
During my 50 years as a Christian I have on a number of occasions felt the pain when those who I have trusted and deeply admired as friends and outstanding examples of Christian character have fallen and been exposed for betraying the standards they openly avowed. Even when I have not been the one directly wronged, the pain of it has been at times like a knife twisted in my gut.
It’s so much harder, of course, when you are the one who has been directly wronged – especially if, in the immediate aftermath of discovery, you have to continue in some form of relationship with your betrayer. And subsequently, although I have always sought to forgive and refrain from judgement, I confess that I have struggled with receiving such people back into a position of trust again.
You look back on the things they said and did, and think to yourself, ‘How could they … when all the time this was going on?’ ‘If only I had known …’ ‘How can I trust them now?’
Ignorance is bliss
I used to think that such sudden discoveries were the worst kind of betrayal. But what Jesus endured was even harder. We struggle to love again and trust again because we fear that we will be betrayed again, even though we hope we will not. But think how much harder it would have been to love that person if we had known that we were being betrayed, or to love again if we knew that we would certainly be betrayed again in the worst possible manner! Could you have loved that one who betrayed you the way you did if you had known what they were going to do to you?
That was the challenge for Jesus: he did know. And his problems with Judas didn’t begin at the last supper. John tells us money had gone missing before (Jn 12:6): but, whereas John probably only realised how with the benefit of hindsight, Jesus knew. Nor was it just the thieving. How would you have reacted if someone you knew had been embezzling a charitable fund were to publicly denounce someone else’s ‘wastefulness’ for not donating to that fund?
Loving in spite of everything
Jesus supremely demonstrated the love of God – even to those who were on a collision course with God’s standards. Right up to the last possible moment he treated Judas with such impeccable love and respect that even those closest to him, and on the lookout for a potential traitor, could not see any hint of mistrust or dislike in his conduct.
It’s a hard act to follow: but that is the standard Jesus sets for us. And next time I am unexpectedly betrayed or let down, maybe I’ll even be thankful that I didn’t see it coming.