(watch here: https://youtu.be/6q4yFI7yfJw)
17On the first day of Unleavened Bread the disciples came to Jesus, saying, ‘Where do you want us to make the preparations for you to eat the Passover?’ 18He said, ‘Go into the city to a certain man, and say to him, “The Teacher says, My time is near; I will keep the Passover at your house with my disciples.” ’ 19So the disciples did as Jesus had directed them, and they prepared the Passover meal.
20When it was evening, he took his place with the twelve; 21and while they were eating, he said, ‘Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me.’ 22And they became greatly distressed and began to say to him one after another, ‘Surely not I, Lord?’ 23He answered, ‘The one who has dipped his hand into the bowl with me will betray me. 24The Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that one by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that one not to have been born.’ 25Judas, who betrayed him, said, ‘Surely not I, Rabbi?’ He replied, ‘You have said so.’
26While they were eating, Jesus took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to the disciples, and said, ‘Take, eat; this is my body.’ 27Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink from it, all of you; 28for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. 29I tell you, I will never again drink of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.’
30When they had sung the hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.
I like the one where Jesus is setting up for his last supper and he calls Judas over to help. “Judas, please set the table.” Judas complies and sets the table. “Judas, put the food on the table.” Judas places the food on the table. “Judas, please call everyone to the table. ” Again, he does as he is told and gathers everyone. As they are enjoying the feast that Jesus planned and had Judas serve, Jesus gets really serious and says, “This will be my last supper with you.” He pauses and continues, “One of you will betray me.” At which point Judas throws his hands up in a huff, “Why do I have to do everything around here?!”
I don’t suppose he had to do everything as that joke suggests but Judas sure did play a key role in the meal. Indeed, without his betrayal, the meal would have been just like any other Passover meal. Jesus and his disciples would have shared food and drink while reflecting on the great miracle of God sparing the children of the faithful Israelites so long ago. Recall the last and final plague during which God went throughout the land of Egypt and killed all the firstborn, both humans and livestock. He instructed Moses to tell the Israelites to smear lamb’s blood on the frame of their home’s front door. God saw the blood and passed on to the next home. The blood served as a sign of immunity and the children were spared. Jesus and his disciples were faithful Jews and would have observed the celebration regardless of Judas’ betrayal. But what made this celebration so special was ultimately Judas’ betrayal. Without the betrayal, there is no last supper, only a supper like any other.
Early in the meal, Jesus does something quite unusual that I think we tend to dismiss too quickly, something reflected in that joke. He tells his disciples, “Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me.” Certainly not the typical conversation starter! We generally don’t know who will betray us in life, especially who among our friends. Nor do we know how to predict the future with such certainty. Sure there are some with heightened perceptions and awareness but as a whole we are blind to future betrayals. Perhaps Jesus was simply one of those people with heightened awareness. Or perhaps Jesus really was and is the Son of God who can understand time and events unlike how we understand them. Jesus can understand the future just as easily as we can understand the present; some of us the past. Though I think the mind plays too many tricks on those who try to make sense of the past. The past is a fading memory. It’ll eventually and invariably be repeated. But Jesus revealed a certainty about the future that few of us can have, perhaps even a little bit of his divinity. What gets me the most about his revelation is when I ask the question, “why?” Why does Jesus make such a revelation? Did he want them anxious and paranoid for the last meal they shared together? I doubt it. Did he want to add a sense of urgency and importance to their meal together? Possibly. Praying over this question this week, I think the best answer is revealed in how he responds to Judas’ reaction to the prediction. As we heard in our reading, the disciples “became greatly distressed and began to say to him one after another, ‘Surely not I, Lord?’” Eventually Judas asks the same question that all the other disciples had asked, “Surely, not I Lord?” And how did Jesus respond? “You have said so.” What an amazing response! What an amazing interaction between the betrayer and the betrayed! Judas knows he is the betrayer, Jesus knows Judas is the betrayer, yet neither of them reveals it the rest of the disciples. Why?! Why allude to the betrayal only to keep the parties involved hidden even further?!
A few years back a manuscript was unearthed among the Dead Sea Scrolls entitled, “The Gospel of Judas.” According to that account, Jesus and Judas were working together to orchestrate the betrayal. Jesus needed a betrayer to set in motion his arrest, death, and resurrection and Judas simply chose the short straw, so to speak. Jesus told Judas when and how he was to betray him and Judas, ever faithful to Jesus, did as he was commanded. I suppose this could answer the question why neither Jesus nor Judas reveals the identity of the betrayer. If they were working together to orchestrate the betrayal, neither had incentive to reveal the betrayer lest their scheme was revealed altogether. But I struggle with this account as does the greater church. Hence, why it hasn’t been incorporated into the Bible. I don’t believe Jesus uses people selfishly to get what he needs. Rather I believe he works in and through and for people. The lost Gospel of Judas goes against the very nature of Jesus. Besides, I think there is an better, more accurate reason why Judas is revealed as the betrayer—because Jesus loves him so much, just as much as the rest of the disciples, just as much as you and me! You see, in making the prediction and Judas’ response to it, Jesus’ deep and profound love is most vividly revealed. Who among us could love someone we know will betray us? A betrayer is to many the worst kind of enemy. They take advantage of our kindness and love only to turn around and harm us. Yes, to love a betrayer is a most difficult thing to do. And yet Jesus does just that. He doesn’t expose Judas for who he is because he loves him oh, so much. As we hear in John’s account of this event, “Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.” (13:1) He loved even the worst of his enemies, the betrayer, the man who enjoyed his love and repaid it with what amounted to death.
Of course, we all betray Jesus in one way or another through sin. Before we criticize Judas, we ought to take good, hard looks at ourselves and how we betray Jesus in our own ways. But the good news is that Jesus loves us too! Just as he loves Judas, so too he loves you and me. In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul writes, “I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.” (3:18-19) I don’t think we can fully understand just how much Jesus loves us. His love, like faith itself, is a great mystery that will only be explained when we sit with him at his throne. Until then, we ought to heed the wisdom of 1 John, “We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us—and we ought to lay down our lives for one another.” (3:16) Perhaps in loving each other, we can better understand his love for us. Maybe not fully but at least better. Let us go into the next 3 days with hearts eager to at least better understand his love. Thanks be to God.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.