Judas departing. A detail from Carl Bloch’s “Last Supper,” late 19th century.
Devotional for Wednesday of Holy Week (April 8)
John 13:21-27 (NLT)
Now Jesus was deeply troubled, and he exclaimed, “I tell you the truth, one of you will betray me!”
The disciples looked at each other, wondering whom he could mean. The disciple Jesus loved was sitting next to Jesus at the table. Simon Peter motioned to him to ask, “Who’s he talking about?” So that disciple leaned over to Jesus and asked, “Lord, who is it?”
Jesus responded, “It is the one to whom I give the bread I dip in the bowl.” And when he had dipped it, he gave it to Judas, son of Simon Iscariot. When Judas had eaten the bread, Satan entered into him. Then Jesus told him, “Hurry and do what you’re going to do.”
If you have a strong reaction to this story, you’ve probably been betrayed. A co-worker, a friend, a relative, a spouse—someone not only let you down, the person actually turned on you, consciously violating a long-established trust.
And the closer the relationship, the worse the pain caused by the betrayal. It usually is hard for the victim of betrayal to let go, to forgive.
Most cultures hold betrayers in very low esteem. In Dante’s fictional account of hell, punishments grew progressively more severe as one moved inward through the demonic realm. The most inner circle was for betrayers who remained frozen in painfully contorted positions. And in the very center, Satan munched on the people Dante considered to be the three greatest traitors: Judas Iscariot, Brutus and Cassius.
In contrast to our personal and cultural reactions, Jesus seemed resigned to betrayal. Of course, by this point in the story, he knew exactly where he was headed, probably down to the minute.
Jesus didn’t do anything to change Judas when he gave him the morsel of bread. Judas’ heart was already turned toward sin. In sharing the bread, Jesus simply identified who among the 12 was most deeply broken. The gift of the gravy-dipped bread seems poignant, though.
To eat with someone on such a night—in this case, to literally break bread—is an intimate moment. To compound the intimacy, earlier in the evening Jesus had washed the disciples’ feet, Judas included. But none of those acts of love could turn the betrayer from his plan.
On that terrible night, Judas truly was a wolf in sheep’s clothing. And once your mind is so firmly set against God’s will, it is easy for Satan or one of his minions to enter and lead the way.
I do wonder about something, though. The Bible tells us that Judas died shortly after the betrayal. (The accounts in Matthew 27 and Acts 1 are difficult to reconcile, but in each one he ends up dead.) Had Judas lived, how would the resurrected Jesus have treated his betrayer?
The closest analogy we have is Peter, who proved to be the worst of the deniers once Jesus had been arrested. Near the end of the Gospel of John, we see Jesus forgive and restore Peter. Again, the scene was intimate, on a beach near a charcoal fire, a breakfast of fish and bread cooked and waiting for some very ashamed men.
Had Judas lived, carrying with him the remorse and repentance he seems to bear in Matthew 27:3-4, I suspect he would have found Jesus’ forgiveness, too.
Such radical forgiveness would be typical of the Savior we serve.
Lord, where we have been betrayed, let us find a way to forgive, and where we have betrayed others, may we be forgiven. Amen.