A guest post from Lindsey Funtik, Coordinator of Volunteer Ministries, First United Methodist Church, Ashland, Ohio.
My favorite novel is Little Women by Louisa May Alcott, which tells the story of four sisters as they grow up and navigate the world. This book has impacted me in many ways, one of which being my first experience of ever truly hating a character. Because it was published in the 1860's, I will risk sharing a spoiler. There is a scene early in the novel when the youngest sister, Amy, having been spurned by her older sister, Jo, when she asked to join for a night on the town, decided to burn the book over which Jo had been slaving. It was absolutely sick to my stomach over the depths of such a betrayal, and I joined Jo in her bitter grief, fiery anger, and deep reluctance to forgive the treacherous Amy.
I have been blessed to not have experienced intense betrayal in my own life, but my reaction to fiction proves that, should I ever be faced with betrayal in reality, my flesh would prevail in a big way.
Not so with Jesus. Today's lectionary reading is John 13:21-32, in which Jesus declares to His disciples at the Last Supper that one of them will betray Him. Amidst the confusion of the other disciples, Jesus dips a piece of bread, proclaims that its recipient is the one that will be the betrayer, and proceeds to hand it to Judas Iscariot.
"What you are about to do, do quickly," Jesus said, prompting the now infamous Judas to flee into the shadows of night. The passage ends with verses 31-32:
"When he was gone, Jesus said, 'Now the Son of Man is glorified and God is glorified in him. If God is glorified in him, God will glorify the Son in himself, and will glorify him at once.'" (NIV)
Having brought a betrayal to light, there was no screaming or throwing of books, which would come from the likes of Jo March and myself. There was only calm amidst the gravity of the situation, and the acknowledgment of God somehow being glorified in it all.
As we seek to be a people conformed to the image of Christ, there are a few things that we can draw from his actions in this scene:
First, Jesus does not try to stop Judas. The Lord fully realized what one of His best friends in the world was about to do, and He did call Judas out in front of the others, but He made no move to prevent Judas from exercising his free will. Horrific as Judas' actions were, they were his to take. Jesus had submitted to Judas’ autonomy and did not take control.
Next, we see that Jesus did not treat Judas any differently than the others. Before the revelation of the betrayer's identity, Judas had a seat at the table. After the revelation, Jesus did not launch into gossip about Judas to make himself feel better. Despite the fact that betrayal and subsequent suffering were imminent, Jesus did not treat Judas with anything less than human dignity.
Finally, Jesus is able to look betrayal and heartache and loss in the face and see through that veil toward the glory of God. Despite all that was in the works, He had confidence in the fact that God's will was being done. He was entering into the lowest point of His existence and yet knew that a bigger purpose was in the works. The King was being exalted in the throes of inky night.
Right now, we are not only walking through Holy Week, but we are also walking through an unprecedented time of confusion and sickness, distance and anxiety. We have the distinct gift of stepping into Jesus' suffering while trying to navigate the suffering of our world’s present moment. It is messy and scary and, if we are being honest, probably a bit frustrating. Maybe there was a vacation you had to cancel or a job you had to leave or a loved one for whom you now have to worry.
Some of us, I would venture to say, are feeling pretty betrayed ourselves.
By tuning in to the example of Jesus, however, we can begin to understand how to confront those things which are the apparent shortcomings of this season:
We can relinquish the control we feel we have for the sake of letting things play out as they will. We only have so much that stands within our power (stay home, folks!), but the thing over which we do have control is our course of action. How we respond when we perceive darkness matters, and Jesus demonstrates that acceptance and perseverance are the roads to traverse.
We see, too, that tragedy and a darkened horizon leaves no room for unkindness. Jesus was able to break bread with the man that would turn him over to His death. If that is true, we as His followers can take the step of faith to dignify the family, friends, neighbors, and workforce members with whom we interact. After all, Amy March was still human, despite her vindictive actions toward her sister.
Finally, like Jesus, we can proclaim the exultation of God in all circumstances. Whether our sister has just burned the book we’ve handwritten, or the walls of our home have begun to shrink during self-isolation, or one of our best friends has sold us out to the Roman Empire, God can spin all things for our good and His glory. An ability to see the new things He is doing in the midst of the desert is a mark of Christlikeness, indeed.
In the end, we can lean into God no matter what. By the power of the Holy Spirit, we can endure all that is set before us and we can do so in a way that points to our Divine Parent, who loves us and is hurdling creation toward redemption.
As we continue to walk through Holy Week and a pandemic at the same time, may we be a people who walk into suffering with our heads held high. We have the ultimate example in Jesus, who simply gave His traitorous brother some bread while looking toward "the joy set before Him" (Heb. 12:2). Life is not fair, but God is good, and that truth remains forever.
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I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe, –that unless I believed, I should not understand.-- St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109)