As my senior pastor says, "At our place, we do church. Especially this time of the year. Holy Week." I had the privilege of preaching on Isaiah 50:4-9a, Hebrews 12:1-3, and John 13:21-32 during Holy Wednesday worship. The reflection I shared with my congregation is below.
I feel like I'm not supposed to admit this in church, but Judas fascinates me.
I don't understand how someone who followed Jesus for three years could betray him. I wrestle with Judas' motivations and wonder what exactly he was hoping to accomplish by betraying Jesus.
It makes me nervous and more than a little uncomfortable to see in tonight's gospel, the phrase, “Satan entered him.” Does that mean Judas was somehow not responsible for his actions?
Even Judas' eventual death fascinates me. What compels him to hang himself? Does such an act reflect genuine sorrow and remorse?
Questions like these could easily consume me. For me, even the act of wrestling with them is fun.
Yet, as I've wrestled with them this week, it occurred to me that my fascination with Judas may, in actuality, be causing me to miss the point of why this story is included in our Holy Week lessons.
So often I've heard preachers deal with this text by comparing us to Judas.
Like Judas, when have you betrayed others?
Like Judas, when have you betrayed Jesus?
Such questions aren't bad. But like the other ones that have fostered my fascination with Judas, ultimately, these questions steal our focus from who matters most in this story: Jesus.
After all, it is Jesus who is the real star of this story, a story which, in so many ways, showcases his humanity.
At the start of tonight's Gospel, Jesus admits he will soon be betrayed not by a stranger, but by Judas, one of his closest friends.
Since we have also been betrayed by others, it's easy for us to imagine the acute pain Jesus must have felt on this night, a night when he not only predicts Judas' betrayal, but also shares bread with him.
Yet, as with my fascination with Judas, as I've dug into this passage more this week, I've begun wondering if this ability to relate to Jesus' humanity might also cause us to miss the point.
The point of this story is not Jesus' humanity but rather his divinity.
After all, in this story, a very human Jesus reveals his omniscience.
He knows he will soon be betrayed and he knows who will do this ugly deed.
Jesus knows these things because he who is human is also God.
That, to me, is the focus of this story; The reason why it's included as part of the lectionary for Holy Week.
The good news in this story is that Jesus is God.
Because Jesus is God, death will be defeated and we – along with all of creation – will be redeemed.
Maybe that's what allows Jesus to speak of betrayal in almost the same breath that he utters the word “glory.”
In the words of New Testament scholar, NT Wright, “Jesus is overwhelmed with his glory, with the coming events as the unveiling of God's glory, and with his own vocation rushing towards its conclusion & bringing God glory.”
So on this day, midway through Holy Week, may we, as the author of Hebrews says, “fix our eyes on Jesus” knowing that even as the cross looms before us, in Jesus we have hope, through him we are redeemed, and by his grace, we, too, can bring God glory.