Betrayal and Salvation!

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March 15, 2024
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March 26, 2024

The story of Jesus’ passion, his betrayal by one of his friends, his arrest, his trial, the mocking and torture he endured, and finally his crucifixion, is one of the most terrible stories; a story of innocent suffering, of dreadful, normalised human cruelty, of betrayal, despair and death. 

It is in Holy Week, this final week of Lent, where we are confronted with the consequences of our actions, or inaction.  Our reflections remind us of our own betrayals, our own chosen and deliberate acts of unkindness, carelessness, hypocrisy and greed.  Our own hiddenness and shadowed living are acknowledged, as we reach for what we call premeditated ignorance.  We make deliberate choices to look away, ignore what makes us uncomfortable, and we reinforce our determination to find another truth which better suits our circumstances and selfish living.

I imagine the morning Jesus rode on a donkey into Jerusalem (Matthew 21:6-11). I think we were all there in the crowd, hailing Jesus, excited to see the new man, the new king, breathing the possibility of change.  However, we didn’t hang around very long. Reality hit us, and we wanted to maintain our distance, remain uncommitted while we saw which way the political winds blew.  Our betrayals started very early in the story as we listen to Mark’s story of Christ’s passion. 

There was the critical, arrogant, gendered disdain for the woman who came to anoint Jesus at dinner.  She shouldn’t have wasted the money on ointment but given it to the poor. Such poor judgement.  What was she doing making everyone feel so uncomfortable as she anointed Jesus ready for his death?  She was clearly a very foolish and misguided woman.

But it was Judas Iscariot who made the decision to betray Jesus.  Jesus’ known enemies had not arrested or detained him even though they’d dreamed and plotted.  It needed someone from his inner circle to do so, and Judas did it, for money, out of disillusionment, resentment, betrayal of his dreams of glory and victory or… who knows.

Even my bosom friend in whom I trusted: who shared my bread has lifted his heel against me. Psalm 41:9

It was not an enemy that reviled me, or I might have borne it: it was not my foes that dealt so insolently with me, or I might have hidden myself from them; but it was you, a person like myself: my companion and my familiar friend.  Psalm 55:13-14

The evening of the Passover meal, Jesus and his disciples, his friends gathered together, and Jesus tells them the bad news.  Betrayal has already happened.  It is in the bread that is eaten and the cup that is drunk within this intimate, small group which has journeyed so far together.  The betrayal cuts deeply.  Jesus’ response is one of profound grief and pragmatic acceptance of what is taking place. He knew this would happen.  It wasn’t a surprise.  There is denial from all involved; and, it is spoken quickly, with outrage and offence, but I wonder what they were thinking.  Jesus’ response doesn’t hide the truth. The truth is now here for all to see and know.  He told them:  You will all become deserters’ he says. (Mark 14:27)

This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many.  Truly I tell you, I will never again drink of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.’  (Mark 14:24-25)

This is the ending.  Peter, who always seems to speak before he thinks, denies such betrayal would ever come from him, and yet he manages it without reflection, within hours.  There is no mistake.  He was so frightened he denied Jesus and as the cock crowed, he weeps with grief and shame at what he now knows he has done. ‘He broke down and wept.’ Mark 14:72

Jesus and the disciples then go out to pray on the hillside, in the gardens after supper; and Jesus asks them to keep him company, to stay awake, to share his darkening hours.  They sleep.   The hour has come. ‘See my betrayer is at hand’.  Mark 14:42

Jesus is betrayed with a kiss; he is betrayed with a sword as his friends go to defend him with violence and against his teaching.    He is betrayed as they all run away.   ‘All of them deserted him and fled.’  Mark 14:50

He is betrayed with false witnesses in the trial by the Chief Priests; amounting to a farce as the different witnesses contradicted each other.   His betrayers finally lose patience and accuse him of blasphemy.  They bear false witness.  He was condemned, the charge is deserving of death. 

Now the betrayals are coming thick and fast.  His religious leaders betray him to the Romans, seeking his death, corruptly and without shame. They and the crowd who had now come to watch the show trial, agree to have a murderer set free rather than an innocent man. They betray him again.

He is betrayed with violence, as he is stripped and then clothed in purple, the colour of Caesars and kings.  He is tortured with flogging, and a crown of thorns jammed on his head, piercing his skin.  He is mocked, humiliated and spat upon.  He becomes a figure that for 2,000 years, is copied around the world in each descent by humanity into humiliation and death.  In Abu Graib, in concentration camps around the world, in Gaza, in Sudan, in Rwanda, in the history of First Nations people and in our treatment of refugees; throughout the history of humanity we know about Jesus who was brutally killed for daring to be a true human being, a man with whom we could not bear to live, as our souls could not bear the light of God’s love in face of all the suffering which we accept.

Jesus refused the wine on the cross, to quench his thirst and dull the pain as he is crucified.  His clothes are shared among his killers.  The two thieves either side of Jesus remind everyone, Jesus is a convicted, betrayed failure, a blasphemer and scapegoat.  Jesus has shown us truly what betrayal is about.  I am outraged at this treatment of an innocent man.

In our experience of betrayal, in being a betrayer and in being betrayed, the story of Jesus’ death is one which we cannot ignore. 

The story of redemption is different. We are resurrection people. We live with the threat of resurrection.  Our pilgrimage of prayer is one of grief and hope, of suffering and new life, new creation.  Jesus shows us how to live so transparently with God, so in his presence we are filled with joy, even in the face of suffering and death.  We know this is not the end, but the beginning.     

The Lord be with you.

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

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