It was a hot night and Jesus had just done the unthinkable. He had washed the feet of his disciples. Now, understand that Jesus’, God with us, King of Glory, washed his own servant’s feet. I barely want to touch my own feet, much less anyone else’s feet. Yet, Jesus washes his disciples dirty, nasty feet on this hot night in the upper room. When he finished he said a few things about someone who would take some bread and betrayal. But who would betray Jesus? They’d all seen who Jesus really was.
Judas son of Simon Iscariot betrayed Christ. We’ve all heard the story. We’ve heard it from Sunday school teachers, in sermons, read it, and to some extent, we glaze right over it. We’ve heard the stories of Judas and his repulsion of Mary’s anointing of Jesus’ feet with expensive perfume. “Master, that stuff’s worth a fortune. We could sell it and give the money to the poor.” Hear Judas thinking, “I’m poor, after all. I sure could use the cash.” “Judas, don’t you get it.” Jesus said, “There’s always going to be poor folk and you’re always going to be poor. I won’t always be with you.” Judas’ hated to be publicly humiliated like that, especially in front of that whore, Mary.
We’ve heard the story of this night too. It was Judas who would betray his Lord. Jesus was upset and everyone there could see it in his face. It was pure pain, the weight-of-the-world-on-his-back kind of pain, to say it out loud. After all, Judas means “praised.” He was one of the twelve, not the new and improved twelve (Now With Mathias!), but the original formula, classic disciples. Jesus looked around at the twelve and said, rather laconically, “One of you is going to betray me.”
Instantly the whispered chatter spread around the room, Peter talking to Bartholomew, John and James exchanging the knowing and silent language of brotherhood, Mathew and Thaddeus exchanging questioning gestures with Phillip and Thomas. Judas, shifty eyed, looked at everyone and refused eye contact with anyone. The chatter, though, was broken by the Word of God, “The one to whom I give this crust of bread after I’ve dipped it.” Hmm, that’s funny that Jesus would still offer himself, as if giving the betrayer a second chance. There’s Jesus always the redeemer. Jesus dipped the bread into the wine and gave it to Judas. Judas took the wine soaked bread in his hand and the shadow of decision passed behind the pupils of his eyes.
Jesus said, “Whatever you are going to do, do it. Do it and get it over with. Quit putting off whatever decision you were going to make.” In that moment, I think of Joshua standing before the Israelites. If you are going to serve God, then serve him. If you are going to serve Baal, serve him, but choose already. Quit bouncing back and forth at your whim. Not one of the disciples around the table knew why Jesus said this to Judas. Some of them even thought he’d just needed to buy stuff they needed for the Passover feast, or that he needed to help some poor folk. Judas stood up, with the dripping, now soggy, piece of bread, and left. He made his choice. It was dark out.
But that is not the end of our scripture on this Holy Wednesday. It doesn’t stop there. It doesn’t stop with this dark and lonely moment in that upper room. After Judas had left, he spoke again, “Now you know who I am, who I really am. Now you know who God is. God’s glory will be on display for everyone to see.” He went on, “Listen. I am not going to be with you for much longer. You’re going to look for me, but I’m going places that you can’t go.”
And here it is. This is Christ’s answer to the betrayer. This is how God answers those who would act the part of supporter, friend, confidant and then turn around and hand him over to his enemies. This is how the Christ responds to the one who should have spoken for him, but instead took a measly penance of a bribe to have him killed. Jesus said, “Let me give you a new command: Love one another. No matter what happens. No matter who stands against you. No matter what others say about you. No matter which of your friends, spouses, children, bosses, co-workers speaks out against you. You are to love one another. Love each other just like I showed you how, just like I modeled it for you. You asked what love looks like? It is the washing of the feet, the laying down of one’s life.” Jesus looked at each one of the remaining disciples and said, “You know why I want you to love one another? Because when you love one another, like I love you, without expecting it in return, shameless love, scandalous love, when you do that everyone will know exactly whom you follow. They’ll know me when they see the love you have for each other.
As we look toward Good Friday, horribly, terribly Good Friday, I want you to remember to love one another. It’s not an easy thing, but it is the thing that marks you as whole and holy citizens of the Kingdom of God.
[this is based on the lectionary Gospel reading for Holy Wednesday, John 13:21-35]