Betrayal and Love

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April 9, 2022
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This story told in John’s gospel (John 13:1-17,31b-35) of the last shared meal between Jesus and his disciples just before the start of the Passover is deeply moving, as we know how precious being together with loved ones is frequently not possible in today’s world.  I listen intently to the description of Jesus washing the feet of the disciples right in the middle of the meal and his direction to them at the end:

I give you a new commandment, that you love one another.  Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.  By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.  John 13 34

I remember wonderful meals with loved ones, including precious moments and meals together before someone dies or on special occasions, the love expressed in the way the food was prepared and shared and how we serve it; the touch and gaze with which we encounter our beloved to show our love.  Human hands and loving hearts preparing food and the table with love.  And in the last two years, there have been so many meals which have not happened because of Covid, and its real wreckage of lives, our relationships and special occasions.

I remember also a very different picture of Russia’s President Putin meeting with France’s President Emmanuel Macron in February this year with 6m of table between them.  I heard myself gasp with shock at the significant distance between the two men, metaphorically and literally, separated not only by Covid but also by ideology and culture.  I had moments of sadness and a gathering sense of horror at the lack of trust and intimacy between them, as they had a life and death conversation to prevent a world war, and my overwhelming experience of betrayal of ordinary people in both Russia and Ukraine, together with the whole world. 

At the shared supper with Jesus, known as the Last Supper or the Lord’s Supper, the intimacy between those at the dining table was physically real. We often forget how meals were eaten in the 1st century, but the text reminds us the disciples were reclining at the table.   A ‘normal’ dining room in those days was able to accommodate 9 people, three couches and a dining table.  If 13 people were present it would have been a squash in the room.  No wonder they needed to book a special room to cope with the group’s size.  (Luke 22:8-13) 

John then tells us: 

During supper Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself.  Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him. John 13: 2b-5

It was easy for Jesus to rise from his dining couch and step back and take off his outer, dining robe and wrap a towel round his waist and pour water into the basin he was to use.  Seeing the host and their leader doing this menial task would be shocking.  By kneeling down it would be easy for Jesus to reach all the disciples’ dusty and worn feet to wash them.  He knelt with humility and gentleness, an extraordinary act of love in the middle of the meal, when perhaps the disciples were relaxing and unwinding from the last few extraordinary days.  Passover is a wonderful ritual meal, a coming together for families and friends, remembering God’s promise to the Israelites to save them from the slavery and leading them to the promised land.  In those days of Roman occupation, hated oppression and military power, a Messiah who was to fulfil God’s promise again was eagerly awaited.  Was it now?  Was it Jesus?

Jesus once again upsets the people around him at the table. Nothing went as it should.  We are told in the other three Gospels, it was at this meal Jesus gave us the words and actions to use when we gather together in God’s name and to remind ourselves of Jesus’ request about how we should behave and speak with one another.

As we listen to this story, we hold in our hearts the knowledge Jesus’ hour had come for him to die.  We know the devil entered Judas’ heart as he was tempted to betray Jesus.  Judas gave into the temptation, for the money, to ease his own disappointment, his own sense of betrayal by Jesus, a Messiah who had not met his expectations.  Jesus also breaks completely with tradition at this meal by washing the feet of his friends and disciples.  Finally, Jesus tells them not only does he know he is soon to die, but he knows who it is who will betray him. 

This remarkable story offers us another moment to be still and hear God’s heart beating with love.  In the middle of a planned act of betrayal, by someone Jesus loved, he knelt humbly at the feet of his disciples and washed them to provide a physical, emotional reminder of love in its most tender expression. 

I think every single person in the world, including all of us here tonight, have suffered from betrayal and we likely have all betrayed another. 

Yet here’s the point I want to leave you with, and I think Jesus did too.   Nothing in the betrayals or in our acceptance and grief at Jesus’ imminent death can deny the fact Jesus has come from God and is going to return to God.  God has given everything into Jesus’ hands. This is an eternal word of hope, for it accepts neither action by the devil or humankind nor a threat against one’s own life can remove or diminish the truth God created us in love, and the final reality of our eternal existence with God. 

It is Jesus’ loving desire this night, as we celebrate the Lord’s supper and his love for all his disciples ever since, to restore hope in each of us.  Jesus’ loving desire for all of us having difficulty in finding hope in the middle of tragic circumstances beyond our control, for all of us encountering war, abuse, poverty, illness, separation, despair and loss of our loved ones, is to remind us we can truly know and have hope in God, now and for ever.  Amen.

The Lord with you.

Lucy Morris
Lucy Morris
Anglican Priest, International Speaker, Published Author, Social Justice Advocate and Activist.

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