Paul E. Jackson
University Congregational Church
Sunday, March 23, 2014
The last Week: Wednesday
In Marcus Borg and Jon Dominic Crossan’s book, The Last Week—What the Gospels Really Teach About Jesus’s Final Days in Jerusalem, we now find ourselves at Wednesday. The Last Wednesday in Jesus’s short life.
Let’s briefly review what has transpired thus far this Last Week. On Sunday, Palm Sunday as we celebrate it now, we had Jesus’s anti-imperial “triumphant” march into the city. Robin will be speaking on this in great detail on our upcoming Palm Sunday, so I won’t say much other than to say that everyone present that Sunday was wildly enthusiastic about Jesus. Mark in his Gospel tells us that “many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches they had cut in the fields. Then those that went ahead and those who followed were shouting, ‘Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David! Hosanna in the highest heaven!’” Many people did this—we don’t how many and we don’t know much about them. But they were certainly hopeful that their messianic prophecy was coming true. So, that’s pretty much the whole shebang for Sunday.
On Monday of the Last week, Robin reminded us a few weeks ago that we had two main things happen. Jesus cursed the fig tree and he over-turned the money-changers’ tables in the temple. We were reminded that these two actions frame a theme–justice. We were reminded, strongly, that God rejects anything that is done by the temple authority (in God’s name) that is not about justice—he rejects this again and again. The God of our faith is one fundamentally concerned with justice for his children. One part of Monday’s narrative that gets lost in this sometimes, is the beginning of the division of supporters and detractors of Jesus. Mark records in his gospel that “when the chief priests and the scribes heard it, they kept looking for a way to kill him; for they were afraid of him, because the whole crowd was spellbound by his teaching.” So now we start to get two sides to this story—the chief priests who now want him dead and the “whole crowd” who is “spellbound by his teaching”. Borg and Crossan assert however, that since Jesus has already been proclaiming the already present kingdom of God against the already present kingdom of Rome, this spellbound crowd is both the reason as well as the deterrent for high-priestly action against Jesus. Borg and Crossan also warn us against demonizing the high priests, (in John’s Gospel specifically) Caiaphas, because John tells us in his account of this week that “if we let him (Jesus) go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and destroy both our holy place and our nation.” And they go on to add, either crowds (the many who welcomed him into Jerusalem) or Romans (who occupy the city and have many troops at their disposal to quell an uprising), will destroy them (the high priests). I think it’s safe to say that they were between a rock (Jesus) and a hard place (Rome).
If you missed my sermon last Sunday on the Last Tuesday of Jesus’s Last Week, suffice it to say, you missed quite a lot-some great jokes. Right ted? Here’s the quick run-down, Jesus is repeatedly harangued by the high priests and he turns the tables on them at each opportunity. He deftly (and quite brilliantly) deflects their interrogation and each time forces them into a corner. The entire sermon is available on our church website, ucchurch.org, if you want to be ready for the final exam that will be held on Easter Sunday. I’m kidding, obviously. The rest of Tuesday was taken up by Jesus preaching and teaching on the soon to occur destruction of the temple and of Jerusalem, “The Little Apocalypse”. Last Sunday I also shared with you Borg and Crossan’s idea that the Second Coming of Christ might very well be found in the church. That we are the Second Coming.
And now, we’re at Wednesday—what happens on Wednesday of the Last Week is the betrayal of Jesus by each of his disciples, and then the ultimate betrayal of Jesus by Judas. Judas Betrays Jesus. Jesus brought his disciples to the garden for a quiet evening of prayer and meditation, and he leaves the garden in chains—indicted by Judas’ kiss and abandoned by all of his followers.
Betrayal is such a dramatic word. Its usage fits here in the passion story, because of the great drama of the story, and when someone’s actions bring about the death of another person, we probably ought to use some dramatic language. However, I think I was in error at our Wednesday night class when I spoke of our “petty betrayals” that we enact on one another and that others enact upon us throughout the day. I should have used a word less fraught with such dramatic potential as “betrayal”. What I was getting at, is that our human interactions, are, on occasion, rife with complexities and subtleties that make great the possibility for us to act contrary to our nature. There is ample opportunity for us every day to act in a selfish manner that is contrary to how we wish to behave. Some of us then say, well, I’ve already been less than the ideal me—let’s try again tomorrow—and make a bad situation far worse. Most of us, usually out of respect for others, or, probably, more likely, out of a desire to avoid conflict, act in ways that go against our perceived ideas of ourselves. Through petty lies, or omissions, or outright acts of aggression, we try to force our world, our little sphere of influence, to conform to whatever our needs may be at the present moment. This is part of what being a human and living in a human community requires. It can’t be avoided. However, we can learn to reconcile our selfish nature with something bigger than ourselves and attempt to live in right relationship.
All of us are guilty of betrayals—some great. Some small. Some so petty that they don’t bear a second thought—except that may be an excuse. For me, once I start to excuse the petty betrayals in my life, then the bigger ones just seem to come on their own accord, don’t they? I’m not talking about perfection. I’m not talking about some impossible ideal of how we should live. I’m talking about living a life of integrity and honesty and transparency that, because of how it is lived, may become a model for others to base their life upon. And it becomes a life with that much less drama in it. We then find it easier to life in right relationship, because we are concerned about right relationship—we’re not so concerned with our needs of the immediate moment.
I think Judas betrayed Jesus to save his own life. He had an opportunity to do this, the situation had gotten out of control, and Judas’ own life was soon to be forfeit. His concern for his own survival outweighed his concern for his friend’s life. And when he could not reconcile what he had done—that he had actually betrayed his teacher and friend–when the enormity of this betrayal became apparent to him, Judas then resorted to the single most selfish act a human being can commit. He killed himself.
I am not here as an apologist for Judas. I’m a pragmatist. I can’t concern myself with articles of doctrine and dogma—the belief that Judas HAD to betray Jesus and the entire affair was foretold in the Old Testament. At this time in my nascent theological education, I can’t deal with all of that. All I can deal with is the fact that one of Jesus’s closest friends let him down. Judas broke Jesus’s trust and he broke his heart. He kissed him—a greeting fit for a rabbi of the day—and that simple act of brotherly affection became the catalyst for Jesus’s capture and execution. Judas collaborated with the very people who stand to lose the most by any revolutionary idea that the kingdom of God is more important than the kingdom of Rome—the high priests and Pharisees—the religious authority of the day.
It’s pretty dark in the garden now, as they lead Jesus away. His friends have all abandoned him. He faces certain execution. There is no one to plead his case or to intervene. Things could not be worse for Jesus.
That’s bleak. That’s life. Sometimes we are all alone. Sometimes there is no hope. Sometimes we are betrayed.
Jesus looked at Judas and told him “Do What You Came For, Friend”. Friend. Jesus knew what was about to happen, and he still chose to call his betrayer—friend.
Our betrayals and acts of selfish carelessness are thus marked by our reaction to them. Could you look your beloved friend in the face, the one who has just collaborated to ensure your execution, and call her–friend? Could you choose that path to follow? Or would you betray the better part of who we all are, and condemn her? It’s a difficult question. I like to think we would. I like to think that following the example of Jesus Christ means that even in the darkest moments of our lives, we would still look to His actions as a blueprint for how we might choose to act.