Just as he was speaking, Judas, one of the Twelve, appeared. With him was a crowd armed with swords and clubs, sent from the chief priests, the teachers of the law, and the elders. Now the betrayer had arranged a signal with them: “The one I kiss is the man; arrest him and lead him away under guard.” Going at once to Jesus, Judas said, “Rabbi!” and kissed him. The men seized Jesus and arrested him. Then one of those standing near drew his sword and struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his ear.
“Am I leading a rebellion,” said Jesus, “that you have come out with swords and clubs to capture me? Every day I was with you, teaching in the temple courts, and you did not arrest me. But the Scriptures must be fulfilled.” Then everyone deserted him and fled. A young man, wearing nothing but a linen garment, was following Jesus. When they seized him, he fled naked, leaving his garment behind. Mark 14:43-52
In our walkabout journey do you remember what was named the most dangerous thing in the Australian wilderness? It was distance…size…space. Just the sheer expanse of uncivilized territory, and the idea that veering off course in the smallest of ways can lead you to an area where there might be no means/resources for survival for many, many square miles.
Size/space is a menace that sneaks up on you, and takes time to develop. I like that for our spiritual comparison because I think it’s more difficult to identify and deal with the heart-dangers that are long-term and gradual. I mean, we preach/teach to death about all of the quick and more apparent forms of sin, like the “thou shalt nots” and rule-lists. In the walkabout metaphor, those dangers are more like the snakes, spiders, and crocodiles of the outback to me. They get a lot of “air time” and for the most part we know how to avoid them, or flee when we see them. We at least pretty well know that they’re wrong, and we ought not go around murdering, lying, and committing adultery; these dangers strike, sure, and often, but I think there’s more going on that’s unseen.
I think the sin, heart-habits, frames of mind, and more, that have slowly taken root in us, and are embedded deeply in us, are equally if not more lethal. Even murder and adultery and the like are probably usually more than just unforeseen, instantaneous events — many times don’t they trace their origins back to other stuff in and around us?
That idea is big for me with Palm Sunday, because this is a day we usually place some blame on the crowds involved in the last days of Jesus’ life. They celebrate as he enters Jerusalem, and call him king, but then they’re ready to kill him and shout “Crucify!” when he’s been arrested. Oftentimes, Palm Sunday is a finger pointed at the fickle nature of the crowd, and seeing ourself in them, when we swing so easily from loving Jesus to hating him. There’s merit in that, but this time I’d rather look at how what happened to Jesus wasn’t just sudden or instantaneous or fickleness. Rather, what were the slow, steady, sneaking up dangers growing in the hearts of the people?
Reading the arrest scene from Mark 14, I see a few things present that fit that description. The first is temptation. Talk about a long-term, sly-working, silent killer. Out in the wild, temptation rears its head because conditions are usually less-than-ideal. Soggy, blistered feet; miles of trails; wet and cold; hot and dry; low water or food; no bed, no privacy, sometimes very little human contact. And temptation has an answer, to drive us towards finding those things we long for so badly. Having the things we long for isn’t always dangerous, until that desire pushes us off of a course that is leading us to our destination, our home, life. It creeps up on a person — you start by looking forward to that hot meal and warm bed when you get home. When the trail goes on forever, you start hoping to find a good alternative out here on the way. You dream up mirages and hope to come across some plush cabin in the woods, maybe, haha. After awhile it’s more than day-dreaming, you see small side-tracks and wonder what’s around the bend. After awhile you more than wonder, you take a few steps to look, keeping an eye of course on your primary path so you don’t get lost. Eventually, you’re going so far down the side-tracks that the primary path is long forgotten. Side-tracks turn out to be fruitless, dead ends. Temptation is dirty, and it develops with time.
When Jesus was arrested, I wonder how temptation had been gaining ground in Judas’ heart. Sunday school portrays him as this rotten cur of a man, with a giant scar or an eye-patch or some other indication of scoundrel. But Jesus chose him, and he chose Jesus. He could’ve been following Jesus for several years up to this point, and sharing in Jesus’ lifestyle (which was near homelessness half the time). We don’t need to write Judas off as innately rotten; we need to wonder what was growing in him as he followed Jesus. What desire was drawing him to veer off course? Did he have a different picture/fantasy of Jesus’ future, as a mighty, successful king? Did he have an idea of sharing in Jesus’ success? When Jesus insisted on talking about suffering/death, was it then that Judas’ side-track became truly a dead end? I don’t think 30 pieces of silver instantly flipped him.
It’s worth wondering, because those desires are deep in us. Even ones that start out fairly good. The desire to be loved and valued, the need to belong, a need for purpose, a passion for success, the hope for dreams fulfilled. What gets you side-tracked? Has anything slowly, over much time, drawn you away from the path that leads to life? Temptation.
There were others present that night, too, right? How about this crowd of torch and sword-bearers? They were sent by the chief priests, and teachers of the law, who I think knew a different heart-danger: corruption. To me, corruption is that thing that grows slowly in us particularly when we’re in charge of something. It’s good to be in charge. We grow accustomed to it, even swollen with it. We begin to believe our decisions are the right ones, exclusively. If you claim you’ve never been in charge, you’ve never been the supervisor at work or the leader of the group, then know this: you are firmly in charge of yourself. In survival terms, imagine we are a large group of plane crash survivors, and we put “Jack” in the lead. So the crowd asks, “Which way do we go, Jack? What direction is home and rescue? How do we get there, what do we do???”
It might go well and good but in time, the best of leaders can be corrupted. If the basic goal of the group is to get out of the wild and survive, then corruption starts to gradually whisper that something is actually more important than that: staying in charge. So one day when Jack is convinced we should all head one way, but someone else pipes up and says that way leads to a sheer precipice that will spell our certain doom, Jack says, “Shut it. Get to the back of the line. Who’s leading this party after all?” When corruption settles in, danger is imminent. The Jewish religious leaders were so convinced of their own righteousness, and chosenness, and interpretation of God, that they arrested that very God to kill him. Over the course of your life, how have you fallen in love with directing your own way, making your own choices, prioritizing for yourself, and sometimes doing what you want just because you want to? How often does that self-love hinder, interfere with, or totally obliterate God’s desire for you or for others around you? Corruption seeps in.
There is one last group of people present on this fateful night. Jesus’ closest followers. And what did they do when the arrest happened? Got ready to fight, ran for it, and hid. To me, they were struck completely foolish. I like how Mark describes this one cat who literally jumps out of his clothes when the bad guys nab him, and he runs off naked. The heart-danger that I think was at work in the disciples was confusion. After all, did they seem to always understand what on earth Jesus was teaching along the way? Nuh uh. He explained and repeated and repeated again. Had they ever really taken him at his word that he would suffer and die? Doubtful. Had Jesus ever shown signs of weakness or vulnerability before? No, he had always managed to escape situations just like this, every time the priests tried to trick or harm him. But this time, he essentially lets them arrest him.
I wonder if some of the doubts they’d had along the way, the questions and misunderstandings over the years of traveling with Jesus, didn’t spring into full life on this night. Again, I don’t think the disciples were just cowards, and it was just the moment when they finally cracked because the mob was too scary looking. They more or less stood their ground…until Jesus let them take him. In a survival situation, confusion in the form of panic or disorientation, can be deadly in the long-run. We miss key signs and symbols, we get turned around and lose the trail, or we mentally crumble under the stress. Was that developing in Jesus’ companions? Does it develop in us? Has God/Jesus ever done something that surprised you? Has it ever produced deep doubt, or confusion? Has God ever challenged your assumptions and left you reeling? And has it ever been the seed for danger later in your life, of bitterness or depression or loss of direction, and more? Confusion.
This crock-pot brand of sinfulness that we’re talking about, the kind that simmers and slow-roasts and stews, usually has a stronger influence on us, in my opinion, than the stuff that pops up in the moment. It’s one thing to be quickly tempted by an attractive person who walks by; it’s another to let a pattern of objectifying the opposite sex take deep root in us. It’s one thing to whine momentarily when you didn’t get your way on what restaurant your spouse chooses for dinner; it’s another to slowly learn to love to be in control and consistently disregard your spouse’s opinion. It’s one (terribly normal) thing to have seasons of doubt; it’s another to leave questions and doubts unanswered and quietly bubbling up into outright rebellion or rejection of God.
Today, we don’t grapple with all of those feelings, or associate ourselves with Jesus’ arrest, just to hang our heads and be guilt-ridden for the next 6 days so that we can finally celebrate on Easter. We take a look into ourselves to see what’s simmering there, so that we can begin to confess and do DIFFERENTLY. We can prayerfully investigate the sources of these feelings, and what feeds them, so that we can uproot whatever is harmful. And we can remember that no matter how far off into a side-track or dead-end we’ve gotten, or how utterly lost we are, or how badly we’ve done in charge of this journey, Jesus is still standing directly by. Even for all the dastardly nature of this night of his arrest, and for everything that contributed to the actions of those present, Jesus transformed it into a tool for the redemption of all things. So, take heart for your survival, confess, look for him, and follow into the fullness of life. Begin today.