Lenten blog | April 5, 2023
How could they, we, not see?
Throughout the year, the Southern New England Conference of the United Church of Christ reproduces the Daily Lectionary for use by churches. These are the suggested readings for April 5th: Psalm 70; Isaiah 50:4-9a; Hebrews 12:1-3; and John 13:21-32. I would encourage you to read these short selections as part of your Lenten practice.
It is rather difficult to understand the proceedings shared with us in today’s Gospel selection. As in the other Gospels, John’s account begins with Jesus’ warning that one of the Twelve will betray Him. Similarly, they are all in denial. In John, however, the Twelve should know who the betrayer is. Peter turns to the Beloved Disciple and asks him to inquire of Jesus who the betrayer is. Jesus answers by saying it is the one to whom He will give the piece of bread, and Jesus then gives it to Judas. Jesus has identified quite plainly that the betrayer is Judas, and yet the message does not seem to be received. I have no idea how it could be missed. When Jesus prods Judas to do quickly what he intends, Judas leaves their company and goes out into the night. The other eleven witness this and have no clue as to what is unfolding. How is this possible?
John is an accomplished author. There must be something to help explain this blatant inconsistency. It may have something to do with the fact that the Johannine Jesus is much more comfortable with His divinity than the Jesus of the Synoptics. One such attribute of the Johannine Jesus is His supernatural knowledge. Jesus knows things before they happen. Jesus knows, for example, that Judas will be His betrayer even before Judas does (cf. 6:70-71). John’s Jesus is always in control and not even His betrayal is outside of Jesus’ influence. This is why Jesus says to Judas, “‘Do quickly what you are going to do.’” Jesus prods Judas to action with these words.
The other eleven are somehow oblivious, but Judas understands well what Jesus means. He exits the community around Jesus and goes out into the night. With the act of betrayal now put in motion by Jesus, Jesus turns to the remaining eleven and speaks in terms of glory: “‘Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him.’” The betrayal has been transformed into an act precipitated by Jesus and falling within the divine plan, and thus the theme of glory. Again, the Johannine Jesus is much more comfortable with His divinity than the Jesus conveyed in the other Gospels.
This theme of glory in the face of betrayal repeats the Isaian theme shared in another of today’s readings. The Suffering Servant is confident of the presence and power of God and this gives him the fortitude to stand firm. We read today: “The Lord God helps me; therefore I have not been disgraced; therefore I have set my face like flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame; he who vindicates me is near. Who will contend with me? Let us stand up together. Who are my adversaries? Let them confront me. It is the Lord God who helps me; who will declare me guilty?” Jesus is prepared for all that will befall Him as His Passion plays out because who are these human actors when compared to God?
I think it is John’s insistence on Jesus’ supernatural abilities that lead to the confusion in today’s Gospel. Jesus must know who the betrayer is. It can no longer be knowledge shared only within parentheses with the reader. It is a foreknowledge that must be made plain to the others around Jesus. Thus, Jesus exposes Judas to the eleven. The fact that the others cannot process this information testifies to the abhorrence of the idea that among them is a traitor. It was a scandal among them and the earliest believers that one of Jesus’ closest followers betrayed Him. Jesus rose above this human denial in His supernatural wisdom, but the others could not.
It is a strange revelation that equates glory with suffering. It is even stranger to ponder the revelation that God is the one who suffers and through this suffering is glorified. A suffering Saviour, a crucified God, is maybe as baffling as the disciples imagining that instead of betrayal Judas was just going out into the night to buy something for the party or to give something to the poor. What lies ahead of us, regardless of how many times we have gone to Golgotha, is a mystery that will always challenge us. Even if we know the answer as did the disciples in the Upper Room, the cross should still lead us to ask all sorts of why’s.
If you’d like, here is the link to the Southern New England Conference’s daily reading schedule: www.sneucc.org/lectionary.
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