Why did Jesus break bread with his betrayer – Judas Iscariot?
And why does God allow His people to suffer, including His beloved Son?
Tonight’s gospel reading captures the moment where Jesus foretells his betrayal and shares this with his disciples at the Passover table. Coincidentally, tonight is also the first night of Passover in our current calendar year. I had the pleasure to celebrate an early Passover Seder with my Jewish friends in Connecticut last weekend, where we read from the Haggadah and ate foods to remember the story of Exodus, the bitterness of their enslavement, and the sweetness of their freedom. Tonight, our Jewish friends gather for the official beginning of Passover.
Just as Simon Peter reclined next to Jesus, our Jewish friends recline during their Passover meals to embrace their leisure as free people. The Book of Exodus walks us through how God delivered the Jewish people from slavery in Egypt. However, we should not overlook the betrayals and sufferings that had brought the Jewish people to this point. The Passover story starts with a
betrayal of a 17 year old boy, Joseph, who was sold by his brothers into slavery
in exchange for 20 pieces of silver. During Joseph’s enslavement, the Lord was
with him. With dreams sent by God, Joseph helped to prepare Egypt for a terrible famine. When his brothers fled to Egypt to escape starvation, Joseph was able to provide for them. Throughout his time in Egypt, Joseph became the Pharaohs’ right hand man. A second betrayal follows, though, by Pharoah of the Jewish people – that led the Jews to enslavement in Egypt. We rejoice in their eventual escape out of Egypt into freedom, with the help of the Lord.
We can’t help but draw parallels between these betrayals: of Joseph, the Jews in Egypt, and Jesus. During the Last Supper, Jesus gathered with his disciples to honor the tradition of his own Jewish community and share a Passover meal. This is where the traditional Passover festivities take a turn. A shroud of darkness descends on the scene when at the Passover table, “Jesus was troubled in spirit and declared, ‘Very truly, I tell you, one of you will betray me.’” (John 13:21). It’s here where he feeds a piece of bread to Judas, and “Satan entered into him.” (John 13:26-27). We learn in Matthew’s gospel that Judas betray his Rabbi for 30 pieces of silver. Why would Judas betray Jesus for 30 pieces of silver?
Why did Joseph’s brothers betray Joseph for 20 pieces of silver? Was it greed? Was it the desperation of poverty? Many of us can remember a time when someone close to us, whether a friend, family member, colleague, or a leader betrayed our trust. They may have not kept a promise, or they may have put you in danger, whether intentionally or by accident. These betrayals may have been the result of pride, or lust, or envy. Yet no matter the reasoning behind it, broken trust is one of the deepest wounds one can feel. It feels deeply personal. We wonder, “Why did this happen to me?” Why did God allow me to suffer like this? It would be natural if Jesus felt sorrow and anger about Judas’ betrayal, as
someone whom he had trusted so deeply as one of his closest followers, who
would eventually turn him in to the Jewish High Priests and be responsible for his fate of suffering and death at the hands of the Roman Empire. And yet, if we
continue reading this gospel, Jesus lets his disciples know that while suffering is imminent, joy is also imminent. “Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with
them…So you have pain now; but I will see you again, and your hearts will
rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.” (John 15:23, 16:22). This joy
mentioned in the book of John is based on God’s Commandment of Love – a love that led God to lower himself into human form to tend to the poor people of Galilee, perform miracles, wash his friends’ feet, and ultimately, die for all of Us. We must remember that even when we face pain today, God is there to lift us out of our suffering and bring us joy. Our readings today remind us that God indeed is there no matter what may come. God knows how much evil has ravaged the human spirit, and how much humans perpetrate on one another, as sinful creatures. God is all too familiar with evil. While we may never fully understand why we must suffer at the hands of other’s sins, or why we cannot help but sin and hurt our friends, family, and enemies, we can only put our faith in God. A God who – through messy human actions – turned a betrayal of brother against brother, ruler against subjects, and friend against teacher into an opportunity to reveal His works through His fallen peoples. God is so intimately familiar with darkness that He sent down Jesus to suffer and die for our sins, and be our light.
Today’s readings challenge us to keep the faith, even when it is scary, even when it is difficult. Our Isaiah reading reminds us of concrete things we can do to listen to God and trust God in order to endure suffering. This reading is particularly visceral by emphasizing the feeling of physical pain that also translates into emotional pain, the shame of being hurt, “I gave my back to those who struck me, and my cheeks to those who pulled out the beard; I did not hide my face from insult and spitting. The Lord God helps me; therefore I have not been disgraced;” (Isaiah 50:6-7) The speaker in Isaiah stands strong, knowing that God is there and will ultimately deliver, especially when all feels lost. We need to stand strong when enduring pain caused by other imperfect human beings. To find peace and strength, we need to lean into faith and pray for God’s deliverance. Today’s psalm is a good one to bookmark for a prayer of deliverance.
I challenge us to remember today that even when darkness seems to hover over
the horizon, light will shine through if we keep our faith and persevere. What’s so beautiful about the exhortations in our Hebrews reading is this idea that we are in this together running towards the light. As it states: “We are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith.” Though we may
constantly betray and hurt one another, we continue to be witnesses of our
Christian faith who are running in community towards our deliverance, our light, our hope for today and the future. Amen.