Isaiah 43:16–21, Philippians 3:4–14, Psalm 126, John 12:1–8
Please join me in our Lenten prayer:
Now, O Lord, calm us into quietness. Take us to that place within You that heals, listens, and molds our longings and passions, our wounds and wanderings, and transforms us into a more holy human shape. For it is in You that we live and move and have our being. Amen.
Isaiah 43: 19 reads, “I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?”
In just a week and a half, we will be sitting at the Passover table with our Lord, and Jesus will have this conversation with the Disciples:
“21… “Very truly, I tell you, one of you will betray me.” 22The disciples looked at one another, uncertain of whom he was speaking. 23One of his disciples — the one whom Jesus loved — was reclining next to him; 24Simon Peter therefore motioned to him to ask Jesus of whom he was speaking. 25So while reclining next to Jesus, he asked him, “Lord, who is it?” 26Jesus 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. 27After he received the piece of bread, Satan entered into him. Jesus said to him, “Do quickly what you are going to do.” 28Now no one at the table knew why he said this to him.” (John 13:21-28)
Was Judas ready for a new thing? Were the disciples ready for a new thing? Are we prepared for a new thing? John’s Gospel is the only one that claims Judas was a thief and stole from the common purse. I have often felt that Judas was – and is, especially in this case – derided unjustly. Someone had to do what he did for the sake of the all the rest of us!
I do understand if, for a moment, we put ourselves in the shoes of Simon the Zealot (another of the disciples), it is a very hard sell. After all, by definition, the zealots were looking for some sort of revolution to kick out the Romans. Viewed that way the act of Brother Judas would have been the most anger-inducing and cowardly thing to ever conceive of. To a zealot, it would have been selling out to the establishment.
Yet, if we wore those lenses we would not have been able to sense that Jesus was doing something completely new – and what Judas did was necessary for the greater good.
In a sense, what speaks to me from this hard message, is that Judas and Jesus were closer in synch with what really had to happen than we might give the Gospel writer or writers credit for. Judas gave himself up for the cause, doing what nobody else dared do by betraying Jesus and setting in motion all the events of what we now call Holy Week. Jesus, of course, gave up himself … not for the cause, but in order to BE the cause.
I must admit, thinking of the actions of Judas as a necessary – and even designed – part of Christ’s larger plan to love the world and give himself up for it is a challenging thing to consider. However, I think that is a truer reading. Sometimes we have to really look deeply into ourselves and set in motion something for the greater good, no matter the cost.
Here is an example: after a horrific encounter a dear Buddhist friend of mine had this past week in which he was accosted by someone who thought he was Muslim, I was poignantly reminded that all of us belong to God, no matter what faith tradition we call our own. A multi-faith group of clergy and other spiritual leaders wrote a letter to the general public and put on an evening vigil this past Friday night for unity and peace in support of coexisting in solidarity as a multi-faith community – no matter what faith tradition.
I signed my name as pastor of my church to that letter and here’s why: my faith demands that I stand with our Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist, Druidic, Sufi and Native faith companions, just to name a few; for we are all children of God and all fellow human beings living on this earth and there is no reason we cannot live in love as God commands us to do – loving neighbor as ourselves, no matter what faith tradition our neighbors come from. Standing up for peace and unity is a vital part of faith in action.
I had occasion just this past week – before I heard about what happened to my friend – to do some deep reflecting myself for my Covenant Group that meets once a month. Our small group of youngish folk called into ministry has been studying Ruth Barton’s Life Together in Christ-Experiencing Transformation in Community. My deep reflecting took me back to an earlier passage in John, when the two sons of Zebedee approach Jesus. He asks them: “What is it you want me to do for you?” That question stuck with me and took on a new meaning as I recreated the passage around my own life’s journey.
The result, in a short summary, was this: What do I really want from the depths of my being for Jesus to do for me? Maybe – just maybe if I was able to put aside all my selfish wants and needs, any self-centeredness I have , and all my fears of the “other,” I might begin to be able to approach Jesus and say: “Teach me, Lord, to love like you love – to comfort like you comfort, to encourage like you encourage.”
That is what standing in vigil to peace and unity was and is all about. Wouldn’t it be something if all of us lived into that kind of reality? We might actually end up being more loving, more comforting, more encouraging to all those who have need of the love of God…even as Jesus gave himself up for all – and not just those who became Christ-followers, but all.
Jesus said, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the greatest and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”
Now, in the spirit of our Lenten journey together, I must ask: Have you lived out these commands to your fullest capacity? Are you ready for Jesus to do a new thing? As you reflect this fifth and final week of Lent, ask yourself: What do you want Jesus to do for you?
May all glory be unto the One who lived, died, and rose again for us; even Him who is the Christ. Amen? May it be so.
 Adapted from a poem by Ted Loder
Questions for Reflection
John 12:1–8 draws our attention to three people: Mary, Judas, and Jesus. It is easy enough to identify Mary as “the good disciple” and Judas as “the bad disciple” not only in this story but also in the larger story of Jesus’ life and death. We can (and do) make this judgment: Mary is accepted and affirmed, while Judas is rejected. But is this the judgment that the other person in the story would make? As one commentator puts it, “. . . if Jesus came to save the lost, surely there is no one in the gospel story who is more lost than the one who betrays Jesus. . . . If the Good Shepherd can and does go to any length to save a lost sheep, is Judas beyond the saving grasp of the Good Shepherd?”† This is not a question with an easy answer. As this story ushers you into Holy Week, consider how the cross, the grace of Christ, speaks to this story and to your own life story, which like most life stories may not be a simple “either/or” example of faithfulness, but a “both/and” mix of faithfulness and unfaithfulness.