The farewell meal is complete, the crumbs still fresh on the table and the wet towels remain wadded next to the basin. Now all kinds of chaos set in as Jesus announces he must leave his circle of friends and they may not come along. It’s pure panic, and it reads like crisis literature.
Jesus offers balm to the disciples (John 14-16). But no amount of balm will do, be it a promise of a Comforter to stay with them or of a grand reunion. (“If I go . . . I will come again!” Nope, not buying it, Jesus.)
At some point Jesus turns his head towards heaven and prays a prayer for the sake of the eavesdropping disciples. This lingering prayer has received much attention through the centuries, save one sentence. And it’s a sentence that matters on Wednesday of Passion Week, as Judas flees the scene of his conspiracy with the authorities to hand Jesus over to them for punishment. The events will come rapidly now, and soon we’ll be at the foot of the cross.
In this prayer, Jesus addresses the Heavenly Parent with tender concern for his disciples. “I have kept them safe. None of them were lost except the one destined for destruction, so the scripture might be fulfilled” (John 17:12).
And then Jesus continues on, without missing a beat, as if to say, “Pretty good odds, we only lost one. But this one we knew about ahead of time. It’s no surprise. So, as I was saying, keep them all safe when I go away.”
I don’t know about you, but I’d like to see a little grieving over the loss of Judas, one from the inside circle. Can this be Jesus’ position, or is this the editorial stitch-work and creative license for which the fourth gospel is so well known?
There is no love lost on Judas, the traitor. Usually listed last in apostolic order, except for a few years in the Eastern Church when he made it to number three or number six, Judas seems irredeemable. According to Ruth Mellinkoff, who wrote for the Journal of Jewish Art out of Hebrew University, there has been a crescendo of hatred, hostility and slanting of the Judas story.
The invidious linking of Judas Iscariot with the Jews has had a long and continuous development. An intimate bond between the hated "betrayer of Christ" and the despised Jews has been boldly and repeatedly sketched––the tie reinforced by endless variations on the theme. Foul epithets, invented stories, and villainous attributes have been added to both Judas and the Jews to emphasize their wickedness, as evidenced in folklore and legends, in drama and in art.
Mellinkoff goes on to say that as early as the ninth century, artists developed devices to point out the traitor: missing a halo, hiding a stolen fish, or adding a money bag. Sometimes it was caricatured or deformed features—or simply red hair!
Judas, the Betrayer. Is this truly how Jesus sees him? What happened to the Jesus from John 10 who insists he is the good shepherd and nothing can snatch anyone out of his care? Or the Jesus of John 3, 4 and 12, the Savior of the world, who came to save not to judge? What about the God of the fourth evangelist, who sent his only begotten son so that whosoever might be saved?
No big deal, we lost one? What about the Jesus of the Gospel of Luke, who shares the compelling stories of one lost sheep, one lost coin, one lost son? One doesn’t matter?
We had a nursery service at the church years ago. My biggest concern for this ministry, as for all ministries involving children of this church, is for safety. We held back for months starting the nursery service until we could provide adequate supervision in a secure environment. We only had to make it through a one-hour service.
One Sabbath, we failed. One minute he was there, the next minute, he was gone. A four-year-old giggly, wiggly boy escaped. He got out of our reach, out of our care. One nursery worker froze and resigned immediately. But the other worker took off running. Good thing she had her tennis shoes on. She didn’t know where to go, which way he had gone, but she ran anyway.
Yes, she caught up with him a few minutes later in the farthest balcony. He went to say hi to Mom. You might like to know, coincidentally, that our little run-away had red hair. Does one matter?
It’s the week Jesus will be tortured and murdered. In part, this happened the way it did because good people were persuaded to join the slanting of the story. Good people nurtured hatred and hostility, perpetuated myths, and then kept silent when truth telling mattered.
I’m praying for courage to carry on every conversation, every sacrament, every ritual, every gathering this weekend in such a way that this community will care for and preserve the one. Will reach the one. Will throw a safety net to the one. Nothing can snatch even one out of God’s care. The evidence from Jesus is overwhelming.
Be Well, Church Family, as we prepare for our Four Days With Jesus Journey.