Here we are. Throughout the season of Lent we have clung to the Ten Commandments. Reminders of God’s laws for life. Here we have promised not to bear false witness against our neighbors. Here we have been traveling alongside Jesus as he made his way to the Holy City Jerusalem--a city we know tends to kill prophets and stone those sent to it (Matthew 23:37-39). Here we are, we have made it to Jerusalem filled with anxiety of what is to come, yet still with Jesus in our midst. We shouted Hosanna as Jesus entered the City. We celebrated a meal with Jesus last night, as he served his disciples and washed their feet. We listened to Jesus as he noted that one of his own would deny him and another betray him. We along with Peter said, “Surely, not I Lord.” (Matthew 26:35) We along with Judas, said “Surly, not I rabbi.” (Matthew 26:25)
We have heard Jesus’s solemn prayer in the garden. We have walked with Jesus as Peter did the very thing he promised not to do. We have heard Judas’ betrayal to the officials. We have seen Jesus’s arrest, afraid of the worst. Through it all, we are quick to cling to our innocence. We continue to say, “Not I Lord.” Yet, if we are honest, we are more like Peter and Judas and, perhaps, even Pilate than we would like to admit.
In this hour we have made it through the night. The night that Judas took 30 pieces of silver, the price of a slave, in exchange for his dear friend. Now here we are, morning has dawned, the sun has begun to rise. Judas realizes he has made a huge mistake, and now wants to do right. He goes to the chief priest and tries to make amends. He returns the silver and pronounces Jesus innocent.
No one cares about his option anymore. Moreover, the word here that is translated as repent, metame”lomai, does not mean a turning around of one’s actions. It suggests instead, a change of mind. This contrasts Peter’s denial even though the same Greek term is used. This points to the idea that that terminology is not what sets Peter and Judas apart (New Interpreters Bible, Volume 8, 578-579). Instead, it is an essential re-orientation to the Kingdom of God. That is what is divine over what is worldly.
Judas, one of Jesus’s dearest friends. Aren’t we all like him in one way or another? Seeing to it ourselves? Wanting what we want, in a given moment, and relying on our own abilities to reach what we desire. We walk with Jesus during life’s moments of celebration. We rejoice at Jesus’s baptism. We enthusiastically say yes as Jesus asks us to follow him. Like Judas, we gain other’s trust. After all, Judas acted as the treasurer for the group, suggesting that he was one of the more trustworthy among the disciples. No one ever suspected that he would betray his dearest friends. With his knowledge he knew what Jerusalem made of prophets, and, as they entered the city, fear and anxiety set in. We begin to see the light fade and the darkness surround. In these moments, like for Judas, we turn to our own means to make things right rather than relying on Jesus’s blood poured out for our forgiveness.
We hand over our gains; we take matters into our own hands. “Seeing to it ourselves” (Matthew27:4, 24). We hang ourselves on worldly matters rather than on God’s love. Judas takes 30 pieces of silver, the price for a slave, in place of Jesus. When he realizes his mistake, he does not ask Jesus for forgiveness. He does not lean on God for help. Instead he turns in his money, takes his life into his own hands, and he hangs himself. In this fashion, he will die and will not have to see, in full, the consequences of his action.
After we encounter Judas’s change of mind and death, we are here. We are at the trial watching as Jesus our Lord is accused in his silent innocence. We are bystanders as Pilate asks repeatedly who he shall release this Passover. Jesus Barabbas or Jesus the one who is called the Messiah. We cheer loudly with the crowd as we shout for Barabbas’s freedom and Jesus’s crucifixion (Matthew 27:21-23).
In our lives, full of many means (food, clothes, money, relationships) we, like Judas and the crowd, try to solve our problems by turning to these superficial means. We do not fully want Jesus in our midst, because then we do not have control—even if the control we have is false. We deny what we know to be right, as we cling to what makes us feel comfortable.
We, like Pilate, know what Jesus was not—guilty. But, do we know who Jesus is? Pilate tries and tries to convince the crowd that Jesus the Messiah is the one they truly want to release. His words, however, hold no conviction. They do not testify to the fact that Jesus is the Son of God.
We, like Judas, value our own ability to make amends. We, like the disciples, value our own power, in change. We cling to money; we attribute our success to our own gains. However, this day, this hour, we are reminded that it is the one we forsake who truly has the power to provide and save.
As much as we in this same hour, 2,000 years later, want to associate with Jesus and the disciples who did not deny him or betray him. If we are honest, we betray Jesus each day. We say who Jesus is not, we announce him innocent, but do we shout with joy to all we encounter, the promises he gives to all through his blood?.......No, we do not; instead, we see to it ourselves. We take matters into our own abilities and relying on our own power as we shed our blood in hopes to gain salvation. Thus, ignoring the promises held in Jesus’s blood poured out for us.
When we are accused wrongly, do we follow Jesus’s example of silence? Jesus, to our accusations, has no defense. He simply listens with a head bowed, crowned with thorns. He’s unhesitant, takes his position before us. He knows what is to come—the cross. He knows that our words could free him from this agony. Yet, he does not defend himself or put us down. When we say that we are sorry and agree to consequences untold. Even suggesting that the blood of his death will cover us and our children (Matthew 27:25).
Jesus remains silent. Except for the fact that his blood—the blood we are guilty of shedding—is the same blood that will wash us clean. It is not the water that washes the stains off our hands, it is not the silver we return, nor is it seeing to it ourselves. It is simply the blood that we forsake that reaches with arms outstretched, in unconditional love, and a head bowed, crowned with thorns. It is this love, a love unforeseen that will save us in order that we may be cleansed.
In the name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen
God whom we betray,
In this hour we are remined evermore of our sinfulness, of our desire to turn to our own means, of our unwillingness to ask for forgiveness. We, like Peter, are often afraid of associating with you, not sure of what will follow. We neglect to imagine that the way to the cross is more powerful than life itself. We, like Judas, desire worldly gains over companionship with our Lord. We, like Pilate, hold empty confections.
Lord, in this hour, we ask your forgiveness of the ways we continue to betray you. Lord, in this hour, we give thanks and praise that the blood you cover us with is full of your love and life eternal.
Lord, here we are. We are here 2,000 years later, desiring a deeper relationship with you.
In your mercy, hear our prayers as we ask them in the name of the one who bowed his head and who we crowned with thorns, Jesus Christ.