Wednesday of Holy Week

‘Judas, who was to betray him; asked in his turn, ‘Not I, Rabbi, surely?’ ‘They are your own words’ answered Jesus.’

There are several revealing aspects around the theme of betrayal in the Passion story. Jesus is the one betrayed, most obviously by one particular disciple. But Jesus is also the one who foresees it and exposes it almost clinically. Judas plays innocent and says ‘not I surely’ and Jesus says – not for the first time – ‘you said it not me’.

As with Pilate or the religious authorities who ask him loaded questions, he avoids being trapped in their duplicity and lets their own words serve as their answer.

He appears very poised in the midst of the betrayal and the false accusations that lead to his destruction. Judas’ motivation remains a mystery – like that of Iago in Othello who seems to take pleasure in mischief for its own sake. But the obvious betrayal of Jesus for a symbolic thirty pieces of silver seems to be so integral to the meaning of the destiny of Jesus that he accepts it without bitterness or blame. He is simply open about it and accepting. We can imagine the sadness and hurt of being betrayed by one close to you but Jesus himself does not betray the closeness between them. There is no bitter blame or even a vindictive counter-rejection of the betrayer.

John Main said that one of the priorities of education is to prepare us to deal with the experience of betrayal. Our hopes and plans often betray us. The weather lets us down on the day of the planned picnic. Planes get delayed when we are on a tight schedule. People in whom we have placed high expectations often fail to fulfill them. In our most vulnerable formative years as children we need to be protected from the early effects of life’s unavoidable betrayals and disappointments. There is something awful about letting down a child’s hopes or not keeping a promise. We know that we have confronted them with a harsh fact of life. We hope it has not been too soon, that it has not done too much damage, too early, to how they deal with the world. Life depends on trust.

Judas and Jesus seem to have a strange intimacy in this story. At least they are open with each other. The other disciples betray passively or just run away. When we are betrayed like this we usually react instinctively – as victims, as the injured party, as the one who therefore enjoys a moral superiority. 

Jesus however responds intuitively from a different place, deeper than the predictable complex of psychological reactions. He is truthful, frank and yet un-blaming. His compassion has a patient, uncomplicated detachment. He forgives without the need for tears or dramatic reconciliation. As if he forgave before the offence was even committed.

Who is this person revealed in his reaction to a very deep form of human suffering, so distant from us and yet so close?


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