After saying this Jesus was troubled in spirit, and declared, ‘Very truly, I tell you, one of you will betray me.’
– John 13:21
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.
– John 13:25-26
No one knows what Judas said in this story. In John’s Gospel he does not say a word, but where he stands says it all. After he has led the Roman soldiers and the temple police to the secret garden where Jesus is praying, Judas stands with the militia. Even when Jesus comes forward to identify himself, Judas does not budge. He is on the side with the weapons and the handcuffs, and he intends to stay there.
So, one of the lessons of this story is that Jesus was not brought down by atheism and chaos. He was brought down by law and order allied with religion, which is always a deadly mix. Beware of those who claim to know the mind of God and who are prepared to use force, if necessary, to make others conform.
That is a lesson I can handle. The next lesson is far harder for me.
As Barbara Brown Taylor notes, whatever Judas’s degree of guilt and whatever his motive, it is extremely important to note that Jesus identifies his betrayer by feeding him. Not by turning over the table and casting him out. Not by tying him to his chair so he can’t carry out his plan, but by feeding him – dipping a morsel into his own cup and giving it to Judas, whose feet he has just washed.
Knowing who Judas is and what he is about to do, Jesus does not throw him out. He bathes him and feeds him. Jesus went on giving himself away to the one who would give him away, because his faithfulness did not depend on theirs. When he dipped the morsel in his cup and handed it to Judas, he not only revealed who Judas was, he also revealed who he was: the one who feeds his enemies – who goes on treating them as friends – loving them to the end.
That is really hard for me because I’m having trouble loving some folks right now. They’re on our television screens and in our news reports. They are spewing hate. They are demeaning people of color. They are demanding that immigrants and refugees are not welcome, that programs for the poor should be cut. They are thriving on a system of fear and oppression.
It’s hard sometimes – really hard – to look at the terrible things going on this world and believe that the people behind them are beloved just like everyone else. But the promise of that hard truth is that we too are beloved. There is nothing, no nothing, within us or around us that is beyond the reach of that love. There is no brokenness or corruption to which God will abandon us.
As one preacher put it, “Jesus Christ doesn’t live and die and live again for casual transformation or partial transformation or easy transformation. Christ comes for total transformation. The promise of Christ is that all things – all things – will be made new.”
The promise of Christ is that nothing, no badness or brokenness, not even death itself, has the final word for any of us or for this world. Only God has the final word, and that word is love.
Rev. Brent Barry is the lead pastor of NorthPark Presbyterian Church. Brent and NorthPark have a deep commitment to working with the poor and hungry in Dallas, helping those with Alzheimer’s disease, and reaching across religious and cultural lines to do their part to bring Dallas together as one.