Photo Credit: Amy Persons Parkes, August Clouds in Georgia
A Reflection for Maundy Thursday
John 13: 1-35
On this night, we hear again the story of Jesus’ betrayal. We hear again the very ordinary story of one friend coming to the end of a friendship to the great, the grave disappointment of another.
We hear the often-told story of how a subordinate is finally fed up with the grand ideas and the vision and the direction of a superior, so fed up that he copies all the client’s files, backs-up business plans, cleans out his desk and sets up shop in a new business a few streets over.
On this night, we hear the story of Jesus’s betrayal; and we can almost see ourselves as one of the ignorant, innocent dinner guests who watch the slow motion disaster of intimate secrets of spouses shouted across the table at one another. We are left with our jaws hitting the tablecloth, as accusations are launched and other members of the dinner party indicted, when the affair and its participants, are now named, exposed among us.
On this night, we watch as the dipped piece of bread is discreetly passed, hand to hand from Jesus down to Judas; and we recall the last time words were whispered behind palms of hands “See, her over there. She’s the one. Yes, all $10,000 came from the estate that she wrongly inherited.”
We have seen this story of betrayal played out in the minutia of our everyday lives, when promises made are not kept, when money meant for savings was spent on a discretionary desire, when people we have trusted to think clearly and rationally have been blindsided by denial and rationalized what was, and is, irrational.
Betrayal is an everyday occurrence; and in the way only Jesus is able to do, Jesus makes the moment of betrayal a holy moment.
Jesus took bread and renamed it his body. Jesus poured out wine and called it his blood. Jesus was immersed beneath the waters of the river Jordan; and in those moments, he died to human desires and rose up to his divine calling.
And, now, when one of his own, one who used to keep the purse and count out the benevolent funds to be used for emergency food for the homeless or a trolley pass for the wayfarer, when this one who used to help Jesus meet the needs of the poor and offer healing to the sick, when this one intends to walk out on him, to report him to the authorities, Jesus hallows the moment and washes his enemy’s feet along with everyone else.
Let’s be clear. Judas may be the one with the most malicious intent; but Judas is not the only one who will walk away.
Judas is not the only one who will desert Jesus.
The other disciples will also desert Jesus — some in fear, some convinced that they need safety.
Some will desert Jesus because they are beginning to doubt that this path of nonviolence is really worth it. They will prefer, in the midst of the fraying fabric of friendship, a military leader not a Messiah.
All of the disciples know betrayal. Jesus knows betrayal.
We know betrayal.
We know betrayal because we have been betrayed by friends who took advantage of gifts, by family members who curried favor with other loved ones by telling the story of what happened in less than favorable terms for us. We know betrayal because we have been betrayed by bosses who demanded every bit of energy we could muster and took all the credit for our work. We have been betrayed by children and husbands and wives when they took the love and faithfulness and loyalty we offered and treated them like the doormat at the back stoop.
We know betrayal because we have betrayed. We have told confidences from friends and co-workers that we promised we would never reveal — but the moment came in a conversation, and we’re not exactly sure why or what happened; but the story just slipped out. And, no matter how many days we have fretted over those loose lips, nothing – nothing – can take it back.
We know betrayal because we have betrayed. We have bent the rules of the office. We have hugged someone too closely, texted someone too frequently. We know betrayal because we have ignored the needs of committed and covenant relationship too many times.
We have betrayed our children with our idle and empty and manipulative threats. We have betrayed ourselves, our values and our principles for the sake of agreement, for the sake of winning an argument, because it was the path of least resistance. We have betrayed ourselves, our values and our principles for more money, for a better job, for a nicer house, and in the hopes that someone would like us.
But the beauty of this moment of betrayal, that we remember tonight, is that Jesus takes this everyday occurrence of betrayal and makes it a holy moment.
And, he asks us to do the same.
Betrayed by Judas (for the betrayal committed in his heart before the Last Supper will find its expression in later hours), Jesus kneels and washes his feet. One more act of love. One more act of service. One more attempt to let forgiveness outlast and overcome revenge.
Knowing Judas will not deviate from the script that had begun in his heart, Jesus does not cajole him, threaten him, beg him, condemn him, or curse him. He washes his feet and lets him go.
In this same freedom, Jesus encounters us – betrayed and betraying — and he loves us, serves us, woos us. But, in kind, we are gifted with freedom to respond, to receive and walk into newness of life.
Jesus takes the everyday occurrence of betrayal and makes it a holy moment.
And, Jesus, bids us, his followers, to do the same. “Love your enemies. Do not repay evil for evil, but repay evil with good. They will know you are my disciples if you love one another. Wash one another’s feet, even as I have washed yours.”
Thanks be to God who has loved us beyond our lovable-ness and sees the possibilities within us that we have tarnished within ourselves.
May we be transformed by such a love.
Amy Persons Parkes © 2016