Intimates and enemies

Wednesday, June 26, 2013 — Week of Proper 7, Year One

[Go to Mission St Clare for an online version of the Daily Office including today’s scripture readings.]

Today’s Readings for the Daily Office

(Book of Common Prayer, p. 970)

Psalms 101, 109:1-4(5-9)20-30 (morning) // 119:121-144 (evening)

1 Samuel 7:2-17

Acts 6:1-15

Luke 22:14-23

“. . . the one who betrays me is with me, and his hand is on the table.”

Jesus accumulates fans and followers throughout the gospel narratives, and he provokes opponents and antagonists along the way. Yet not everyone falls in line as clear friend or clear foe. One of the most intriguing characters in our Scriptures is Judas Iscariot, Jesus’ close companion . . . and calculating betrayer.

Today’s gospel shocks me with how close Judas is to Jesus. At the beginning of the meal, Jesus clearly and passionately expresses his own desire to be in the company of his guests at the Last Supper: “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer.” He makes it clear to his disciples that he longs to be with them—that he chooses to spend the most crucial and precious remaining moments of his life with them.

At the conclusion of the meal, Jesus seems to shatter the intimacy by announcing that one of them is his betrayer. In fact, his betrayer’s hand is on that very table. As a matter of course, the dinner party fragments itself, as “they began to ask one another, which one of them it could be who would do this.” The meal ends in mistrust, suspicion, and disbelief.

Let’s listen more closely to this stunning announcement from Jesus: “the one who betrays me is with me, and his hand is on the table.” The one who betrays me . . . is with me. How can this be? How can someone turn away from Jesus and still be with him?

The most extraordinary interpretation of Judas that I’ve encountered is a play called “The Last Days of Judas Iscariot,” by Stephen Adly Guirgis. (The play uses a lot of profanity, but the sacred shines through.) Judas doesn’t understand why Jesus could forgive Peter, Thomas, and Paul for their respective betrayals, but not him. Why do they get to be with him again?

In the play, Jesus approaches Judas in his version of hell and asks, “Judas—What if I were to tell you that you are not here? That you are with me in my kingdom even now, and that you have been there since the morning of my ascension and that you have never left?” Jesus insists that he is with Judas, but Judas won’t hear it.

The play gives us a more thorough portrait of what this gospel story captures in just a snapshot: Judas among the eagerly-desired guests, in the presence of Jesus, his hand on the table, and yet withdrawing his heart. He is an intimate; he is an enemy.

Many other Biblical stories of repentance and reconciliation follow the pattern of departure and return, such as the prodigal son. In fact, our first reading today uses similar language of “returning to the Lord.” This gospel story is different, though. It is about the failure to recognize that Jesus is right there with you, asking for your company and intimacy, even at his table, even when you betray him.

How might Judas have heard the words, “the one who betrays me is with me”? The disciples hear it as an accusation, an instigation to question and suspect one another. But what if we hear those words in conjunction with Jesus’ opening words of welcome—”I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you”? Jesus is saying, “I want to be with you. I am with you. You are with me.”

The middle of this passage gives us the words that form the “institution narrative” that we hear included in our Eucharistic prayers. The next time that we hear this prayer and approach the Eucharistic table, perhaps we should try to think of Jesus’ incredible welcome. First, there is Jesus’ desire to share this meal with us. And second, there is Jesus’ announcement that no matter what betrayals we commit, we are still with him—right there with our hands on the table.

Inspired as a child by Maria Von Trapp, Luke Skywalker, and Jesus, Lora Walsh strives for wisdom, justice, and a simpler way.  She serves as curate of Grace Episcopal Church in Siloam Springs and as director of the Ark Fellows, an Episcopal Service Corps program sponsored by St. Paul’s in Fayetteville, Arkansas

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