Today is a dark day in the Christian calendar, this is not really a feel good event. How many times have you heard the words, “in the night in which he was betrayed?” Tonight is the night of the Last Supper, as told by the Gospel of John.
You know what, I love the Gospel of John. It is a rich narrative about Jesus’ ministry, written with beautiful poetry and prose. Many people tell me it is their favourite, I’m more of a Mark kind of guy but each Gospel shows us a different facet of Jesus that we need to examine. Each had a different writer, a different audience and a different context. The Gospel of John is generally thought to be written sometime between the years 90-110, the last of the four Gospels. That’s roughly 60-80 years after Jesus’ crucifixion. To put that into context, that would be like someone today writing about World War II without references, no books, or youtube videos, only the oral stories from the remaining survivors and second or third hand accounts.
John was writing to a Jewish sect of Christ followers that had accepted Jesus as the Messiah, as opposed to those in the Jewish mainstream who had not. The tension between these two groups caused a split in the period after the destruction of the Temple. The hostility that existed between the two sometimes comes through in John’s Gospel.
For these contextual reasons, among others, we find evidence of a lot of scapegoating in John’s Gospel and we find more evidence here today. The Gospel writer goes out of their way to damn “the Jews” and Judas. We often find the two linked together as some sort of axis of evil.
As a result, we are presented with a false dichotomy. In order to establish Jesus’ perfect goodness, we need to exaggerate perfect evil through Judas, the Jews and the devil acting together and set against Jesus.
As it so often happens in this world, we are compelled to tear others down to build ourselves up. I still fall into that trap from time to time despite my best conscious efforts. We see this play out in day to day life, but we have also seen it played out in Brussels this week. We were all presented with an enemy to rally around. How did you feel when you heard about it? Perhaps angry and vengeful towards ISIS, terrorists, extremist Muslims, or even Arabs in general? Other people who we don’t understand, like the Jews and Judas. We don’t understand what would inspire people to commit such senseless violence. We don’t understand why Judas would go off and tell the authorities where Jesus was. In that lack of understanding, or perhaps in the initial emotional, visceral response, we lean toward hatred. Sometimes hate feels so good doesn’t it, its like a powerful drug.
We have all heard a lot of reaction against the attack, much of it justified, but we are also hearing calls to perpetuate the cycle of violence. We must resist those calls. Instead, we need an honest conversation about the larger questions and issues which have created the situation we find ourselves in. If people are oppressed violently, they are vulnerable. If the situation continues long enough, they become desperate, falling prey to groups like ISIS. And remember that one person’s terrorist is another person’s freedom fighter. Note too that there are very powerful forces in this world that benefit from the never ending, difficult to define, war on terror.
This is not a rallying call for the bleeding hearts of the world to unite. It is a call to look deeper into the situation and learn more about what is really happening beyond the media headlines. To better understand why these things are happening, to see our own role in the problem and to be smart about how we move forward, to look and listen for God’s grace in the midst of violence and despair.
Following the Last Supper, Jesus issued the disciples a new commandment, to love one another. How are we to interpret this commandment? Does it apply among the Apostles? Does it apply to the Apostles and their community? Does it apply to every generation that followed Christ? Does it apply to us? Does it apply to all humanity and creation? I am going to suggest that we err on the side of inclusion and make interpreting Jesus’ commandment as broad as possible, to make room for as many as possible in the spirit of Christian hospitality. We are not commanded to like one another, to like everyone. But we are commanded to love one another. We are not commanded to agree with everything that everyone ever says to avoid conflict, we are commanded to see God in every other living thing and to love that.
It occurred to me while meditating on this passage this week, that in our rush to condemn Judas, we overlook the fact that Jesus washed his feet too. If that is not a sign of God’s grace then I don’t know what is. Jesus washed Judas’ feet. In verses 10-11 Jesus talks about being clean, thinking about it now, it seems like a purification ritual, preparing Judas for his path. Do we ever stop to think about how scared Judas was in those final hours? How torn up inside he must have been, the torment he experienced. Judas loved Jesus, and Jesus loved him. Jesus’ love was not a naïve love. God’s love is not a naïve love, it can grind us up and transform us. It can make us uncomfortable. And it can give us hope for a better world. Jesus tells us that everyone will know we are his disciples by our love for one another. Will we be recognized?