After saying this Jesus was troubled in spirit, and declared, “Very truly, I tell you, one of you will betray me.” The disciples looked at one another, uncertain of whom he was speaking. John 13:31-22
We’ve been doing a performance of the Living Last Supper, where guys from the churches play the parts of each of the 12 disciples at the last supper in the upper room, just after this moment in John 13. Based on Da Vinci’s painting of the fateful scene, we each take turns giving monologues that describe who we are as each disciple, our experience of Jesus, and our feelings of doubt that make us wonder who will actually betray Jesus. My “director”-ly advice every year is if someone goes blank on their lines, they some remember that every single monologue ends in the common question: “Is it I? Is it I?”
Da Vinci was trying to show us how every disciple, in his own personality, reacted differently to this portent. The drama emphasizes that every one of them had reason to suspect himself. We see that shortly after Jesus is actually arrested, as all of them seem to desert their Master in different ways. It’s important for us as Christians because we need to see ourselves there, and realize our own part in the cruelty coming for Jesus. One church member told me he was struggling with the story, particularly with Judas, because like so many of us he just wants to punch Judas out. My brother-in-law is playing Judas in the drama, and I want to punch him too sometimes, but for different reasons — for instance, every rehearsal he comes in and acts like he doesn’t know his lines, or uses a different voice (Brian Fellows, rapper, etc.), but then on the night of the production he does an exceptional job. He just likes to stress me out. But for real, this church member says Judas is so arrogant, and self-centered, and he can’t believe that after all Judas saw while following he would still betray Jesus; so he hates him.
My answer was that it’s good to want to defend Jesus’ honor that way, by all means. But then, the big point of the drama, again, is to remember that every human who has ever lived, from Adam to the end, including you and me, has and will contribute to the burden that Christ bore, and the sin that he took upon himself. I think this time of year needs that balance — a healthy dose of humility and confession but also a righteous anger that this happened to Jesus at all. We can’t have one without the other. There are two sides to the crucifixion of Jesus, in this sense.
1) What was done against him by others, other people and other powers. If you’ve seen Mel Gibson’s “Passion” then you’ve seen the satan character creeping through the whole story, behind the scenes pushing the priests and prompting the crowds and taking pleasure in Jesus’ suffering. I appreciate this little tool by the film-makers to make the truth abundantly clear: dastardly plotting and great time/energy were invested by hell in what happened in Jerusalem. The same hell that has a hand in the injustice, oppression, and trash that we’ve all contended with at one time or another. I can’t speak for you, and I know plenty of you don’t believe in some of that, but for me it sharpens my sense of self, my sense of Christ, and my sense of life, to be wary that goodness has an Enemy, and that Jesus did. Let this Scripture, and this season, help you focus a healthy wrath on evil, so that you can resist it wherever it’s found. Our revenge for what was done to Jesus might be to be sure we are never on the side of evil again. Which brings us to #2.
2) What was done to Jesus by us, personally. Evil would’ve been far less effective, and always is, if humans chose to resist it. The danger in getting mad at evil in general, or pointing too strong a finger at “those other people” who were responsible for the crucifixion, is we have a completely equal share in it with them. This could also be called “what is continuing to be done to Jesus by us, personally,” because the most pious among us, the most devout, probably continues to do harm sometimes, or fail to good, or fall short in staying in love with God. We are betrayers, sometimes for the sake of money, fame, comfort, ease, idols, and more. Let our part in the whole fiasco motivate us to be graceful with others, even graceful with ourselves, and to just be utterly thankful for Christ’s merciful work on our behalf.
Today, work with those two ideas. Keep them in tension. If you lean towards one or the other, try to find balance, and see how it alters your Easter experience.