And it was night

March 26, 2013

Dear brothers and sisters,

The gospel today is from John 13:21-33 and 36-38.

When he had said this, Jesus was deeply troubled and testified, “Amen, amen, I say to you, one of you will betray me.” The disciples looked at one another, at a loss as to whom he meant. One of his disciples, the one whom Jesus loved, was reclining at Jesus’ side. So Simon Peter nodded to him to find out whom he meant. He leaned back against Jesus’ chest and said to him, “Master, who is it?” Jesus answered, “It is the one to whom I hand the morsel after I have dipped it.” So he dipped the morsel and [took it and] handed it to Judas, son of Simon the Iscariot. After he took the morsel, Satan entered him. So Jesus said to him, “What you are going to do, do quickly.” [Now] none of those reclining at table realized why he said this to him. Some thought that since Judas kept the money bag, Jesus had told him, “Buy what we need for the feast,” or to give something to the poor. So he took the morsel and left at once. And it was night. When he had left, Jesus said, “Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him. [If God is glorified in him,] God will also glorify him in himself, and he will glorify him at once. My children, I will be with you only a little while longer. You will look for me, and as I told the Jews, ‘Where I go you cannot come,’ so now I say it to you….Simon Peter said to him, “Master, where are you going?” Jesus answered [him], “Where I am going, you cannot follow me now, though you will follow later.” Peter said to him, “Master, why can’t I follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.” Jesus answered, “Will you lay down your life for me? Amen, amen, I say to you, the cock will not crow before you deny me three times.”

Jesus had just washed the feet of his disciples and said to them, “But so that the scripture might be fulfilled, ‘The one who ate my food has raised his heel against me.'” This prospect is what so troubled him. One whom he had chosen, taught, trusted, and shared meals with was to betray him.

Scholars generally have believed that John was the unnamed disciple whom Jesus loved here. According to Barclay, the Jews reclined at a low, solid, U-shaped table with their heads at the side of the table and their feet away from it. They leaned on their left sides and raised themselves on their left elbows, leaving their right hands free to handle the food. The host took the place at the center of the bottom of the U. Therefore, John must have been seated at Jesus’ right side because his head would have been nearest to Jesus’ chest and able to rest there and to speak quietly. Judas must have been seated at Jesus’ left side in order for Jesus to rest his head against Judas and to give him a morsel to eat. Barclay speculates that Jesus invited Judas to recline at his side. “The revealing thing is that the place on the left of the host was the place of highest honour, kept for the most intimate friend.”

The contrast demonstrates the place of Jesus in our lives. John rested his head in the bosom of Jesus, surrendering himself trustingly in an intimacy that is characteristic of a child’s resting in the warm reception of a parent’s breast. There is hardly a better image of the love between a parent and child, nurturing by the one and trusting by the other. Jesus confided in him, told John whom would betray him. On the other side Jesus appealed one last time to Judas, offering him the opportunity of salvation by the gifts of his intimate affection and nourishment, both literal and metaphorical.

However, something had steeled Judas against this invitation by Jesus, against his offer of love and acceptance. We can only speculate what is was. I used to feel sorry for Judas because he was a mere pawn in God’s plan, a dupe of fate. I don’t think so any longer. I still feel sorry for Judas not as a fated figure, but as one who was unable to receive love and to love in return. That is the tragedy in this scene. Jesus could sense that Judas was unmoved; he was remote; his heart was impenetrable; he was lost. Satan had triumphed over proffered love making room for hate. “And it was night.” The curtain had closed separating Jesus and Judas, light from dark, love from hate, life from death.

Barclay writes, “It is always night when a man goes from Christ to follow his own purposes. It is always night when a man listens to the call of evil rather than the summons of good. It is always night when hate puts out the light of love. It is always night when a man turns his back on Jesus.” Turns his back instead of offering his breast.

Barclay goes on, “Sometimes we say that love is blind. That is not so, for the love that is blind can end in nothing but bleak and utter disillusionment. Real love is open-eyed. It loves, not what it imagines a man to be, but what he is.” That may be the clue as to what motivated Judas to betray Jesus. I think Judas had shaped Jesus into what he wanted Jesus to be — possibly the king of the Jews. He initially was undoubtedly captivated by Jesus and began to see in him the promise of revolution, of a new kingdom, of the overthrow of the Romans and wealthy landowners. Gradually, he came to understand that the kingdom Jesus preached and sought after was something entirely different. Judas was deeply disillusioned and resentment crept into his heart.

I have experienced this too many times to count. In the first blush of meeting someone attractive to me for some I shape them to be what I want. I love what I want them to be, not who they are. It was my first love or really my desperate desire to be loved that ended in a breakup. It was a leader in whom I placed all my hope for change only to discover that the hunger for power overrode the opportunity for real change. It was a listening ear, a seemingly understanding heart, in whom I confided only to be hurt when I discovered that my trust was misplaced. This is the stuff of live; it happens to all of us. I always have a choice in how to respond. Do I harden my heart, ostensibly protecting myself from future hurt? Or do I love again, trust again, make myself vulnerable again? Will I learn to see a person as he really is and love that reality or will I choose to only love the person I want her to be, which will invariably lead to further disappointment?

These are the choices this scene portrays. Do I want to be John or Judas? Most often I have unwittingly chosen to be like Judas because I don’t conceptualize my choices in this way; I respond instinctively, reflexively, and allow my emotions to override my ability to discern and decide. Barclay writes, “The heart of Jesus is big enough to love us as we are.” Is mine? Am I able to love God and to love myself as God loves me? Am I, in turn, able to love others as they are, as God created them? Seems like everything always comes back to the greatest commandment. Judas chose not to have anything to do with it any longer. He denied it as the central tenet of God’s kingdom. He chose the dark side, the kingdom of evil, the false, empty promises of Satan.

Today’s prayer from the Magnificat Lenten Companion is powerful, “Heavenly Father, convert my heart to the love you reveal in your Son.”



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