On the Night He Was Betrayed: What Betraying Hands do to the Human Heart

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BETRAYAL. Try to say that word out loud without absorbing any of its bite.

To be betrayed is to be on the receiving end of deception, disloyalty, dishonesty. It’s a kick in the pants and a punch to the gut. At its best (is there such a thing?), the one betrayed emerges relatively unscathed, sadder perhaps but more savvy in the ways of the human heart.

At its worst, the one betrayed does not emerge at all.

On the Christian liturgical calendar, today is Maundy Thursday.  It commemorates the startling commandment Jesus gave his disciples after washing their feet prior to the last Passover he would celebrate with them.

So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other” (John 13:34).

The Latin term for the Greek phrase “new commandment” is mandatum novum, which eventually moved to Middle English and became our word “Maundy.”

A mandate is not a suggestion but an order. “Love each other,” Jesus commanded his inner circle. The gospel of John tells us that Jesus understood full well what would take place later that night.

“Before the Passover celebration, Jesus knew that his hour had come to leave this world and return to his Father. He had loved his disciples during his ministry on earth, and now he loved them to the very end.” (John 13: 1)

If you or I knew our death was imminent, would some of our final words to those closest to us center on love?

Yes, perhaps, if our family was gathered around us in a hospice room, leaning in to hear our final thoughts.

Sure, maybe, if your commander was ordering a full-frontal attack on the battlefield and you were about to die with your band of brothers.

But love, seriously, if you knew that someone very close to you was about to commit the act that would nail you to a cross?

It was time for supper, and the devil had already prompted Judas, son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus…  Jesus knew who would betray him. “(John 13: 2, 11a)

“Betraying Hands” – Original art by Jim Whitmer, used with permission

Most of us have experienced betrayal on a small scale.

The middle school friend who spills your secrets at recess.

The coworker who takes credit for a project on which you did all the work.

The beloved friends in your church family with whom you’ve had a long relationship only to discover your love has not been reciprocated.

Small stuff, maybe, but it only takes a tiny knife to leave a gaping wound.

And then there is Betrayal on the grand Shakespearean scale.

The former trusted colleagues who dredge up allegations against you that were investigated and cleared years ago.

The neighbors who accuse you of blaspheming their deity in order to seize your land.

The husband who kisses you goodbye as he leaves – Surprise! – to start a new life with your best friend.

BETRAYAL.

Jesus saw it coming.

Thanks be to his Father and ours, we are generally oblivious until it happens. Blessed ignorance.  Unmindful unawareness.

But then the blade enters and plunges deep. The stabbing pain of large-scale betrayal or the constancy of cutting remarks that bleed you dry.

What then, Lord Jesus? How are we to love when we are not loved in return?

Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me. There is more than enough room in my Father’s home….When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am. And you know the way to where I am going (John 14: 1-4).

But I HATE this, Lord.

This is not how I thought it would be. Our failed marriage. This awful neighborhood. My damaged legacy.

What if the worst happens and there is no restoration, no reconciliation, no vindication?

No, we don’t know, Lord,” Thomas said. “We have no idea where you are going, so how can we know the way?” (v. 5)

I AM THE WAY. Your way forward, up, out of your circumstances. Out of yourself.

I AM THE TRUTH. Your peace, your exoneration, your absolution.

I AM THE LIFE.  My body, broken for you. My blood, shed for you. My life given for you. My self, hidden in you.

Maundy Thursday.    Good Friday.    Silent Saturday.   Resurrection Sunday.

Betrayed. Broken. Blessed.

Bleeding and battered, but on the road again.

Bound for home.