We are in the middle part of the Triduum...the Three Days...which lead up to Resurrection Sunday aka Easter. These days are of special importance to me as this is typically the time that I find myself confronted with questions, thoughts, epiphanies that have often greatly shaken and shaped my spiritual journey and helped move me toward deeper understanding and empathy for others.
This year has (so far) not been the same type of internal shifting. I'm not sure if it's just weariness from a year of pandemic living or arriving at a place in my seminary career where I'm supposed to be winding down and yet I have "things," papers and projects, that I have no energy for and yet I have to do them. Church's are not open and so I watched my diocesan's service and got my own tub of water and stuck my feet in it to attempt to have some sort of "felt" experience of the Maundy Thursday foot washing...only to tune into another service where the preacher was denouncing the practice. Church in the year of pandemic has been...as the French say..."interesting."
So, whatever is going on in me, the shifting doesn't feel as if we're going to my spiritual nerve center this time. And I think that's OK.
What I am thinking about is Judas.
"What?!" you say, "You're thinking about the betrayer and not our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ???!!!"
Yes, that's right. I'm thinking about Judas.
Throughout Holy Week, where we've been treated exclusively to the Gospel of John's account of the events of Jesus' final stand in Jerusalem, we've seen Judas the thief, Judas the complainer, Judas the betrayer. He is the one who receives the bread from Jesus, the bread that Jesus "dips into the dish"(John 13:26a) and hands it to him, announcing that "this is the guy who is about to stab me in the back" and yet the other disciples seem to be oblivious to this. They're all still pre-occupied with the idea that somebody might betray Jesus and doing an internal inventory of their hearts. They are so focused on themselves that they don't see what's just happened. And how could they see it? We're told Satan entered into Judas at that moment, but it's not like there is some physical forked-tongued, horned creature that manifests before their eyes. That's not how Evil works. It's much more cunning. It's odorless. Tasteless. But highly infectious.
And while "Satan entered into him" (John 13:27a), and Judas goes off to fulfill his part in the unjust arrest and persecution of Jesus, I think there is some secondhand spreading of the sin of Judas that we, those left with these Gospels, might want to consider.
Judas played a particularly active role in carrying out evil against Jesus, but the other eleven succumb to something we might think of as maybe not as egregious and yet sinful. Note how they all clutched at their hearts and kept asserting that they would never betray Jesus. I mean, Heaven forbid they do such a thing, right?
And yet...they did betray him. Peter denied knowing him, and Phillip and James and Andrew and all the rest? When the Roman soldiers showed up and broke up their gathering in the garden to arrest Jesus, they stood by and watched. Yes, Peter attacked Malchus and cut off his ear only to have Jesus tell him to put away the sword. Violence isn't the answer. And Jesus, still modeling Love for his disciples, gives himself up to the authorities and tells them to let the other men go (John 18:8). And apparently, they went. Away. Hiding. For John, this fulfills the Scripture...which can be traced to Psalm 41:9:
"Even my bosom friend in whom I trusted, who ate of my bread, has lifted the heel against me."
We can play a game of "What if all the disciples had claimed to be Jesus?" just like in the film clip "I am Spartacus!" It certainly would have undermined the mission of Jesus to fulfill the task of dying on the cross to save the world. But I'm not thinking about that. Where my mind has been going today is how much have I or you or we been like one of those eleven? How have we been so worried that we might stand accused of being "the betrayer" that we get self-absorbed and fail to see when the betrayal is happening right before our eyes?
That was brought to light today for me when I was doing a social justice walk that centered around John's Gospel for Good Friday (note: this is a terrible Gospel to reference if you want to do any sort of interfaith work with Jews for an obvious reason). We were walking through Dumbarton Oaks in the Georgetown section of D.C. Here, amidst the beauty of the trees, we contemplated Pilate's actions in carrying out the demand to have Jesus crucified (another aside: Pilate gets a very sympathetic treatment in the Gospel of John even though the Roman Emperor finally dismissed him as Governor because he was even too cruel and sadistic for the Romans!) The priest who offered a short homily on this passage noted how laws get obeyed and are left unquestioned and unchallenged until someone notices that there is something not right about the law and stops refusing to go along. Such was the case of the Loving couple from Virginia who finally challenged the ban on interracial marriage, a landmark U.S. Supreme Court case that paved the way for marriage equality for the LGBTQI+ community. Certainly, I have had my eyes opened in the past decade to the inequity in the justice system. As the daughter of a judge, I was brought up to believe that courts were neutral territory, the one place where the minority mouse could roar like a lion and be heard.
Sadly, I have seen over and over and over and over how this American ideal is not a reality. I have listened to so many stories on the news and in person with my friends about how the system does not treat people of color as mighty mice allowed to roar but rather as pesky rodents that need to be put away...sometimes forever. It has been sobering and saddening. With the trial of Derek Chauvin going on in Minnesota, and the quest for justice in the murder of George Floyd, all of this is very much on mind.
Recognizing and naming the racism in the systems in our society is the start. The next step is to work to change them. How will I make efforts to push for the sentencing of people who are black and brown to be the same as for whites? How will I stand with black and brown people who feel overpoliced on the one hand, and underserved by the police when they really need it on the other? These are some of my questions. Maybe you have your own. But I think considering them, continuing to listen to communities of color, are part of the work of not being like the disciples who move on and don't get in the way of Jesus' arrest. I know how easy it is to do that and how intimidating it is to step into those situations. I also know we cannot look away or take comfort in our own self-righteousness any more.