Wednesday of Holy Week: ‘‘Very truly, I tell you, one of you will betray me.’’ - Revd Dr Fiona Haworth
The Wednesday of Holy Week: ‘‘Very truly, I tell you, one of you will betray me.’’
Reflection by Fiona Haworth
Each year, the pattern of readings during Holy Week take us through the events of the last week of Jesus earthly life. We begin with Palm Sunday and the triumphant entry into Jerusalem. On Monday we remember the meal Jesus shared at the home of Lazarus in Bethany, where Mary anointed Jesus’ feet. On Tuesday we remember the Greeks in Jerusalem who asked to see Jesus; and in response to their request, Jesus speaks of his glorification. On Wednesday we remember Judas setting in motion his betrayal of Jesus.
Collect for Palm Sunday
True and humble king,
hailed by the crowd as Messiah:
grant us the faith to know you and love you,
that we may be found beside you
on the way of the cross,
which is the path of glory. Amen (Church of England Additional Collects)
Bible Reading: John 13:21-32
After saying this Jesus was troubled in spirit, and declared, ‘Very truly, I tell you, one of you will betray me.’ The disciples looked at one another, uncertain of whom he was speaking. One of his disciples—the one whom Jesus loved—was reclining next to him; Simon Peter therefore motioned to him to ask Jesus of whom he was speaking. So while reclining next to Jesus, he asked him, ‘Lord, who is it?’ Jesus answered, ‘It is the one to whom I give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish.’* So when he had dipped the piece of bread, he gave it to Judas son of Simon Iscariot.* After he received the piece of bread,* Satan entered into him. Jesus said to him, ‘Do quickly what you are going to do.’ Now no one at the table knew why he said this to him. Some thought that, because Judas had the common purse, Jesus was telling him, ‘Buy what we need for the festival’; or, that he should give something to the poor. So, after receiving the piece of bread, he immediately went out. And it was night.
When he had gone out, Jesus said, ‘Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. If God has been glorified in him,* God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once. (NRSV)
Wednesday of Holy Week: ‘‘Very truly, I tell you, one of you will betray me.’’
Reflection Fiona Haworth
Historically, the Wednesday of Holy Week was known as Spy Wednesday. The name comes from the gospel passage above, which is associated with this day, and recalls Judas’ betrayal of Jesus to the religious authorities. The association of Wednesday with the betrayal of Jesus led to Wednesdays being observed as fast days in the church, a tradition still observed, along with Fridays, by Orthodox Christians.
It is a difficult reading that raises all sorts of questions. It is worth looking at the context, Jesus is gathered with his disciples for the meal we know as the Last Supper. Jesus has just taken a towel and a bowl of water and tenderly washed the feet of those gathered with him. Peter, predictably, protests, and Jesus tells him that if he does not allow his feet to be washed, he will have no part with Jesus. Jesus goes on to say that not all the disciples are clean, because he knew that he would be betrayed. Judas was there. Jesus will have knelt to wash his feet. It is a very intimate act, washing someone’s feet. It places the person doing the washing in a menial position; they must look up to meet the eyes of the person they are tending.
What passed between Jesus and Judas in that moment? Did Jesus betray any emotion other than love as he bathed Judas feet. Did Judas wonder about what he had set in motion? Did he have second thoughts? Did he hope that Jesus would do something, say something, to stop him?
Jesus speaks of being deeply troubled. His sense of self and his sense of unity with God is under threat by the turmoil within. He speaks of his betrayal openly. No one knew who Jesus was speaking of. Judas was one of them and there seems to have been no suggestion that he would do such a thing. It is almost as if the moment of decision occurs when Judas is handed the piece of bread, and Jesus tells him to do quickly what he must do. It is at that moment that Judas makes his choice and leaves. He has chosen freely to do what he will do. There has been no coercion.
Judas has chosen to turn his back on Jesus, on the disciples, on the love he has been shown. Perhaps he felt unworthy, perhaps his life experiences had been so often of rejection that he was patterned to reject others before they could reject him. Today we are interested in motives and reasons, in understanding the ins and outs of human behaviour. The gospel writer is not. Judas has done what he has done. And with his leaving, it is as if the tension, the anguish that Jesus has felt, has dissipated. Jesus speaks again of glory, the glorifying of God and the glorifying of the Son of Man, this dance of love and trust and letting go that is at the heart of the divine relationship. Jesus has poured out his love on his disciples. He has let them go to be who they will be. In Matthew’s gospel, we are told that Judas repents and tries to return the money he received for handing Jesus over. When the money is refused and his attempt to mitigate his actions thwarted, Judas hangs himself. Would his story have unfolded differently if the money had been accepted and Judas had lived long enough to meet the risen Christ? Peter too will betray Jesus in the dark hours before dawn. But Peter has experienced enough of love to find his way back.
It is often in times of trauma and tragedy that we discover who people really are. Faced with difficult, demanding circumstances, it is difficult to hide. When inner turmoil disconnects our feelings and our emotions from our capacity to think things through and be rational, we fall back on the patterns of behaviour that we have learned through our lives. But these patterns are not set in stone. We can change. We can learn to be attentive to our feelings, to recognise the harmful behaviours that we fall into and step beyond the patterns that have trapped us in the past. Faith can play a part in this. The conviction that we are forgiven, can open new possibilities, new ways of being. Peter knew that he was loved and that he would be forgiven, and that conviction deep within enabled him to stay the course and move beyond the impulsive need to protect himself.
As this strange and frightening period in our national and global life unfolds, it is easy to feel helpless, lost and anxious. There is so much we can’t control, but we can control the way we act. We can choose to be kind, to reach out, to care. We are free to make the choice to love, to change the way we live to protect the greater good. We are free to grow into our identity as loved and held by God.
Jesus set Judas free to choose,
yet loved him still.
Set us free to choose
what is good,
what is generous,
what is loving.
So may your kingdom be built,
in shopping delivered,
in social distancing observed,
in phone calls and letters,
in playing our part
to protect those who risk infection
in ensuring that the shops are stocked,
the refuse collected,
the transport runs,
the children taught,
the sick are tended,
the bereaved comforted.
In all our ways, may your name be glorified.