When it was evening, he took his place with the twelve; and while they were eating, he said, “Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me.” And they became greatly distressed and began to say to him one after another, “Surely not I, Lord?” He answered, “The one who has dipped his hand into the bowl with me will betray me. The Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that one by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that one not to have been born.” Judas, who betrayed him, said, “Surely not I, Rabbi?” He replied, “You have said so.”
This wasn’t a pleasant beginning to their Passover meal. They’d obviously been looking forward to this time together, to celebrating with their teacher the rescue of Israel from bondage. Yet the first words out of Jesus mouth are filled with omens of treachery.
“Greatly distressed,” as Matthew describes them, probably just barely covers it. How about “shocked,” “incredulous,” and “thunderstruck” to boot. And so each protests – not just his innocence, I imagine, but even that it could happen. And Judas protests along with them, even though he has already accepted the blood money.
What they don’t understand, of course, is that even as they sit down to celebrate God’s great deliverance of the children of Israel from Egypt, God is about to deliver again, but this time not a single nation but all of humanity. This deliverance, like the last one, will be born in tears and struggle and death.
For Jesus goes to the cross to demonstrate God’s profound love so that we may be delivered from our illusions that we are all alone, or that we must rescue ourselves, or that we are forsaken to determine our own fate and purpose by ourselves. Jesus goes to the cross that we may be delivered from our own sins, knowing that God will not count them against us, and from our own fears and even from the specter of death itself.
As the disciples gather to celebrate God’s work to redeem Israel, they have no idea of what is to come. And because they do not yet know what they are capable of – betrayal, desertion, denial – or what God is capable of – mercy, forgiveness, redemption – they will miss much of what is about to happen.
In this regard, we are different. We know this story and what to look for. At times, however, our very familiarity with the story of God’s greatest redemption dulls us to how profound it is. Let us, therefore, give our attention to the details of this narrative that we might be struck anew by God’s profound and unending love for each and all of us.
Prayer: Dear God, fasten our eyes to the form of your Son as he journeys to and endures the cross that we might know we need never fear again. In Jesus’ name, Amen.