Saturday, March 16, 2013

A Lenten Reflection for March 16, 2013

Because of this many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him. So Jesus asked the twelve, ‘Do you also wish to go away?’ Simon Peter answered him, ‘Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.’ Jesus answered them, ‘Did I not choose you, the twelve? Yet one of you is a devil.’ He was speaking of Judas son of Simon Iscariot, for he, though one of the twelve, was going to betray him. (John 6:66-71)

The sixth chapter of the gospel of John tells a story of duplicity. At the beginning of the text, Jesus feeds 5,000 hungry people. As a result, more people begin to follow him. In the middle of the text, the religious leaders give Jesus grief over his claim that he is the “living bread that came down from heaven.” Jesus then scandalizes everyone when he says that to find true life, they must eat his flesh and drink his blood.

After that, everyone deserts him except the original twelve. And, as Jesus points out, one of them is a bad apple.

Actually, they’re all bad apples. The disciples reveal themselves to be cowardly, power hungry, doubtful, confused, and violent. The other so-called disciples cut and run as soon as Jesus says something that disturbs them, confirming the popular definition of heresy: Telling someone something they don’t already think they know.

Judas merely acts out what lies within the heart of all the others. Yes, he betrayed Jesus. But his actions revealed the possibility that betrayal was a seed inside all of them (that’s why, when Jesus later said that one of them would betray him, each one asked “Is it I, Lord?”). When the larger group of followers abandoned Jesus, that too was a form of betrayal. They sided with Jesus’ enemies the moment they walked away. They voted Jesus down in their departure.

When Jesus asked the twelve (including Judas) if they planned to leave as well, he exposed the possibility that betrayal could happen at any time. Even after Peter speaks his touching words of loyalty and trust, he and the others would fall away, at least for a while.

It is tragically humbling to recognize the seeds of sin and betrayal that lie within me. Yes, there is love, but love is a prerequisite for betrayal. There is no betrayal if love does not first exist. Yes, I can say that I love Jesus. But I have to realize that betrayal can grow out of my love like a toxic weed.

Thankfully, my love is not first. God’s love is first. Love comes at God’s initiation, not mine. My task—and yours—is to cling tightly to Jesus’ robes and hang on. Even when his words and deeds scandalize me.

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