Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Recognizing What People Are | Wednesday of Holy Week 2021

"After saying this Jesus was troubled in spirit, and declared, 'Very truly, I tell you, one of you will betray
me.' The disciples looked at one another, uncertain of whom he was speaking. One of his disciples--the one whom Jesus loved--was reclining next to him; Simon Peter therefore motioned to him to ask Jesus of whom he was speaking. So while reclining next to Jesus, he asked him, 'Lord, who is it?' Jesus answered, 'It is the one to whom I give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish.' So when he had dipped the piece of bread, he gave it to Judas son of Simon Iscariot. After he received the piece of bread, Satan entered into him. Jesus said to him, 'Do quickly what you are going to do.' Now no one at the table knew why he said this to him. Some thought that, because Judas had the common purse, Jesus was telling him, 'Buy what we need for the festival'; or, that he should give something to the poor. So, after receiving the piece of bread, he immediately went out. And it was night."
— John 13:21-30 NRSV

"All warfare is based on deception." Sun Tzu, Art of War 1:18

The times in my life that my naivety has left me most unprepared are when I learn about someone's infidelity. It has happened several times, and in every situation the truth had to be recounted to me. To my credit, there was one time that I heard it clearly when someone described to me the troubles in her marriage (she had no idea), and there was also the time I discovered someone's unfaithfulness to me, and managed not to be completely shocked. What's going on behind the scenes of someone's life can be well-hidden, but often there are clear signs of what's going on. I can't help but wonder if this wasn't true of Judas Iscariot, and I also can't help feeling amused by the innocence of the other disciples. 

What really happened we'll never know, but the Gospels tell a story of fellowship and betrayal that is all too familiar to many of us. Whether it was a lover or a friend, most of us have felt betrayed by someone at some point in our lives. While it's an ongoing theme in my life, perhaps you've been more fortunate...or alert. We're told that this Judas accompanied Jesus on his travels, and was even put in the position of group treasurer. He was one of the close friends and followers of Jesus. Perhaps in real life, if anything of the sort actually happened, the historical Jesus was caught flat-footed like many of us have been. In the story, though, he not only knew what was going on in Judas' heart, but used that to achieve his mission in life. 

That's quite a thing, isn't it? To not only foresee someone's faithlessness and betrayal, but also incorporate it into one's plans. The Gospel of Matthew tells us that Jesus advised his disciples to be "shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves" (10:16). Here in the Gospel of John we see a prime example of what that would look like. Satan, the deceiver, is said in our reading to have "entered into" Judas. And yet, the real deception was carried out neither by Satan nor Judas. Jesus did no wrong in his actions with Judas. Instead, he counted on his infidelity and put it to use. This was the subtlest and best deception there could be.

And yet, even as Jesus 'commissioned' Judas to his work, handing him the piece of bread, the disciples still didn't get it. Perhaps we're to understand that they were too wrapped up in the idea of Jesus as an earthly, conquering king to see that weakness and apparent failure were the plan all along. 

I am not advocating deception. Most of the time there could be bad consequences for someone otherwise innocent. However, we shouldn't be so determined to take the high road that we won't exercise some judgment around how to best handle those who would derail us. If they seem committed to their path, there's no harm in accounting for that. We do, however, have to stay alert so that we are at the very least not caught unprepared. Sadly, the human condition is such that appearances around someone's life can be very deceiving indeed.