Which One of Them It Could Be

Rev. Mark Schaefer
Kay Spiritual Life Center
April 2, 2015—Maundy Thursday
Luke 22:14-23

Image courtesy wordle.net

When the time came, Jesus took his place at the table, and the apostles joined him. He said to them, “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. I tell you, I won’t eat it until it is fulfilled in God’s kingdom.” After taking a cup and giving thanks, he said, “Take this and share it among yourselves. I tell you that from now on I won’t drink from the fruit of the vine until God’s kingdom has come.” After taking the bread and giving thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way, he took the cup after the meal and said, “This cup is the new covenant by my blood, which is poured out for you.   “But look! My betrayer is with me; his hand is on this table. The Human One goes just as it has been determined. But how terrible it is for that person who betrays him.” They began to argue among themselves about which of them it could possibly be who would do this.

I. BEGINNING

I can think of plenty of ways a dinner could be an uncomfortable experience. A business lunch where your boss drinks too much. A blind date where you’ve just ordered and your date says something racist and now you have to just make it through the meal and go home. Or the dinner where you go out with a friend and they think you’re on a date together. There are all kinds of ways that a dinner could become uncomfortable.

Which is why I have to wonder what kinds of thoughts were going through the disciples’ minds when Jesus begins to describe the bread and wine of the Passover meal as his body and blood, inviting them to eat and drink of his flesh and blood. It surely must have been an odd turn—Jesus engaged in speaking in parables a lot, but this was more than a parabolic turn of phrase.

But even so, Jesus fashioning Eucharistic language would hardly be the most disquieting thing Jesus would say at the dinner. No, what happens next is far more troubling:

“But look! My betrayer is with me; his hand is on this table. The Human One goes just as it has been determined. But how terrible it is for that person who betrays him.”

Suddenly now, it is not just Jesus engaging in esoteric metaphorical language; he’s just flat out said that he has a betrayer in the midst of those sharing the meal with him.

I can imagine that that statement changed the mood of the meal quite a bit. If Jesus’ talk about eating his flesh and blood had been a puzzlement to his disciples, this statement must have outright stunned them.

II. THE ARGUMENT

And perhaps the most telling verse in the passage is the final one: “They began to argue among themselves about which one of them it could possibly be who would do this.”

I feel like this verse sums up the church perfectly. Jesus says that someone has betrayed him and the rest of the church begins arguing about who it could be. Who’s the bad follower of Jesus? It’s got to be you.

That argument has hardly abated, has it? The disciples of Christ are still arguing about who the betrayer is. And there are all kinds of suspects.

There are those who forsake tradition, who keep speaking of God in ways that are outside the ordinary conceptions that have been handed down to us. There are those who question the orthodoxies of the past when it comes to the scriptures or the salvation history. Those who insist on “redefining” the things others hold dear. Perhaps those are the betrayers of Christ.

Or maybe it’s those who focus too much on tradition and ignore the calls of justice that Jesus clearly supported. Those who somehow miss all the teachings about poverty and equality in the scriptures and insist that Christianity and Free Market Capitalism are one and the same thing. Perhaps those are the betrayers of Christ.

Or maybe it’s those who deny the authority of the Church and the magisterium. Christ instituted Peter as the Rock upon which he would build his church and gave him the keys to heaven, yet throughout history there have been those who have defied God’s holy church and its authority, particularly the authority of the Pope, Christ’s Vicar on Earth. Perhaps those are the betrayers of Christ.

Or what about those who do not place enough emphasis on the need for conversion and to experience the saving power of Christ in one’s life? Those who don’t seem to think a born again experience is necessary to claim salvation. Who haven’t claimed the transformative power of Jesus Christ and him alone for their salvation. Perhaps they are the betrayers of Christ.

Or what about the ones who eschew God’s clearly given faculties of reason? Who deny the obvious findings of science and learning and insist on a kind of Biblical literalism that elevates the Bible to an idol even higher than Jesus himself? Who close their ears to even the clearest truths because they conflict with their preconceived notions of what faith is all about and in so doing bring disrepute to God’s church? Perhaps they are the betrayers of Christ.

“Which one of them could it possibly be who would do this?”

III.  WHO IS THE GUILTY?

So, who is the guilty? The answer is found in the old hymn: [1]

Who was the guilty? Who brought this upon thee?
Alas, my treason, Jesus, hath undone thee!
’Twas I, Lord Jesus, I it was denied thee; I crucified thee.

Who is the guilty? Which one of us could it be? It’s me. I did it. But more than that: it’s us. All of us.

It’s comforting, perhaps too comforting to assume we all know the answer to Jesus’ question: it’s Judas! It becomes too easy to imagine that the guilt can be laid at the feet of a man long dead. And that’s it. If we’d been there, it would’ve been different. We wouldn’t have betrayed Jesus. We would’ve been faithful.

Well, there’s a word for that idea, and that word is: bulljive.

There are some scholars who suspect that Judas may have been a literary invention. That he is a symbolic character written into the narrative to make a point. After all, his Hebrew name, Yehudah, means “Jew.” And lest you think that this is implying an anti-Semitic message in the Gospels, note well that practically everyone in the gospel narratives, including Jesus and all his disciples, are themselves Jews. If it’s a symbolic name, then it is meant to suggest that Jesus was betrayed by one of his own, by family. If the story were written today, the name of the betrayer would be named “Christian.” And that would be a far more accurate title today.

And that’s true whether Judas is a historical person or a literary invention. Because it is we who betray Jesus. We are the ones who seek our own advantage rather than self-sacrifice. We are the ones who run away in fear when the powers that be force us to decide between them and God. We are the ones who are so quick to blame each other, who divide the body of Christ over doctrinal squabbles, church authority, and textual interpretation. We are the ones who are quick to blame others—Jews, ancient Romans—for the death of Jesus rather than look at our own guilt. We are the ones so quick to judge the sins of others without examining our own complicity in systematic and institutional sin. We are the betrayer with our hand on the table. We are the ones “with him” who will yet sell him out. But instead of acknowledging this, we spend most of our time pointing fingers and arguing over who it could possibly be.

IV. END

But here’s the word of grace: Jesus knew that he had a betrayer at the table with him. He knew that he had someone who would deny him that night three times. He knew that at that table were those who would scatter and flee when everything began to go wrong. And he offered them his body and blood anyway.

Jesus shared with his disciples the Passover meal; a meal celebrating the liberation from bondage. And in that meal he offered himself as the liberation from the bondage of sin and brokenness. He offered that to those whom he knew were broken, faithless, and sinful. And yet, through that love and mercy, those who had betrayed would go out into all the world, transformed, to preach about the love and grace of God known in Jesus Christ. He offered them a meal in the midst of their unfaithfulness and through that self-sacrifice transformed them into people of faith.

And he offers that to us, too.

In a few moments, we are going to share in that sacred meal. It is a meal of grace, a meal of mercy. It is a meal in which we are loved as we are—faithless though we may be.

And so we come to the feast, knowing the answer to the question of which one it could possibly be. And we partake of the body and the blood and understand that whatever brokenness we bring, whatever guilt we bear, whatever shame we feel, all of it is transformed through the love of God in Jesus Christ. For in the end, it is not our brokenness, not our sin, not our betrayal that defines our relationship with God, it is the love and grace of God known in Jesus Christ that does. As another old hymn says: [2]

Come, sinners, to the gospel feast,
let every soul be Jesus’ guest.
Ye need not one be left behind,
for God hath bid all humankind.

Ye who believe his record true
shall sup with him and he with you;
come to the feast, be saved from sin,
for Jesus waits to take you in.

 


Notes

[1] Johann Heermann, “Ah, Holy Jesus”
[2] Charles Wesley, “Come, Sinners to the Gospel Feast”