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St. Paul’s – Spy Wednesday – 4/8/2020

As Holy Week moves steadily on, I find myself feeling more and more anxious. It could have something to do with the fact that the doctors in the tri-county area saying the cornavirus is coming. I think thought there is something deeper happening here. We’re just twenty-four hours from the holiest of holy seasons, the Paschal Triduum. The pace is quickening toward the cross. Even our Collect for today, with its graphic language of whipping and spitting, feels more intense. I can feel my anxiety level rising, and I just don’t want Good Friday to happen this year.

I imagine Jesus was having similar feelings by Wednesday evening. The week has been intense: a king’s welcome into the Holy City on Sunday, a violent encounter with the Temple authorities on Monday, and an difficult situation with public display of affection and money wasted.

Wednesday, it seems, was a day to regroup. We find Jesus in Bethany, rather than Jerusalem, today. He’s relaxing at table with friends in the home of Simon the Leper, not arguing with the chief priests and scribes who Mark tells us were looking to kill Jesus. Maybe Jesus is having second thoughts about the whole thing. Maybe he’s going to find another way. Maybe Good Friday won’t have to happen this year.

And then there is Judas. Talk about a bad career move. Betraying the Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, for thirty silver pieces. Even when Judas wanted to do something good–like giving money to the poor, as we heard last night–it came off as a rotten, bad move.

Why did Judas do it–betray Jesus?

I believe here is what Judas was hoping for. Like thousands of other devoted Jews, Judas is zealous to see YHWH reign in Jerusalem. So zealous, in fact, that most would call him a zealot, a fanatical nationalist who had put all of his hopes for the future into the basket of Jesus of Nazareth. Things were looking up on Sunday. The political machine was rolling as folks laid down palm branches and coats, shouting out Hosanna! God Save Us! and calling to Jesus as Son of David and The one who comes in the name of the Lord. 

Now, three days later, it seems as though Jesus is headed down the path of so many revolutionaries before him, either death on a cross as a traitor to Rome or obscurity in the Galilean countryside.

This just can’t be. Judas has one last ditch plan to force Jesus to claim his power and authority. The idea is sparked in his mind as he watched the woman anoint Jesus with that costly nard. Sure, it was perfume used for burial, but that action of pouring oil upon his head was strongly symbolic of the anointing of the powerful kings of the past.  Jesus was the Messiah, and Judas would make sure Jesus lived into that role in precisely the way Judas wanted. Judas wanted Jesus to be what he wanted him to be and not what Jesus wanted to be. Good Friday wasn’t going to happen if Judas had anything to do with it.

Maybe Judas didn’t really think that Jesus would die. Judas knew that Jesus was the Son of God. And he knew that if he wanted, Jesus could simply as he said, appeal to my Father, and he [would] send more than 12 legions of angels to rescue him. We think that Judas wanted Jesus to be a destroy-the- Roma-rule type of Messiah rather than a forgive-your-enemies-and-pray-for-them Messiah. We think that Judas wanted to join a kingdom-of-God-on-earth church, rather than a thy- kingdom-come-they-will-be-done-kind of church. Even though Jesus had announced three times that he was going to be arrested, crucified, and raised from the dead, Judas just could not find a way to see a dead guy on a tree as God’s right-hand-man. It could be that Judas grew tired of waiting for Jesus to be the kind of Messiah that Judas wanted, so he figured that he would force Jesus to be that kind of Messiah by putting Jesus in the position where Jesus had to use a little power and might.

I’m struck as well by how hard it must have been for Judas. Judas, who had pinned such hopes on Christ, only to have them dashed. Judas, who believed at the end of it all that this was probably all that was left for him, to betray this ineffective Messiah into the hands of those who wanted to stop him. How hard this must have been for Judas. 

How sad.

Judas has always been a tragic figure to me.

I think that’s perhaps because each of us know what it’s like to have God not live up to our expectations. We know what it’s like to have Jesus not do the things we want Jesus to do. We all know what it’s like to have the world just not simply turn out the way that you wanted it to and to have anger and frustration about that.

And while it’s unlikely that any have us have gone into the temple and taken 30 pieces of silver to betray Christ, I would imagine that each of us has had times in our life when our experience of God or others has made us want to say, Oh, to hell with it.

I’m fascinated by the readings given to us on Spy Wednesday. Because these readings not only look very carefully and very realistically at the suffering of Christ, but they also connect that suffering to us. We are given readings that say that we should not lose heart when we find ourselves beset by all kinds of suffering, that we should fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, and press on. I’m struck by that.

I’m struck by the fact that Jesus demonstrated that when our faith in others is shaken, when our faith in God is shaken, when we find ourselves hurt or wounded or angry—maybe not spat upon, but wounded in other ways—that we are called quite simply to look a little more carefully at Jesus and to choose to persist. We are called to know that saying To hell with it, is the path that leads to no good end, that it is the path that leads out into the night—not where the Light is.

We are called instead to choose to be present, to persist, to love as we best can, even if that means the difficult suffering before us. To persist in love is what Christ did.

And as Jesus walks through this Holy Week, watching, as we have seen, as the crisis and conflict rises, as more and more begin to doubt him… Surely, he began to realize more and more how hard it is to watch those who had followed him turn away, how hard it is to watch the crowds of Palm Sunday eventually shrink, bit by bit, until we hit this moment on Spy Wednesday where even one of his closest friends turns away.

We watch that.

But we also see a Christ who remains steadfast in his path, who remains convinced that what matters much more than his suffering is a persistent love that seeks to reconcile all people to God and God’s self.

We know from the Bible that once Judas wasn’t going to do his magic act and escape and overthrow the Romans, Judas called it quits by hanging himself. Although it was the end of Judas, maybe it didn’t have to be. As Paul wrote as paraphrased in the Message: Do you think anyone is going to be able to drive a wedge between us and Christ’s love for us? There is no way! Not trouble, not hard times, not hatred, not hunger, not homelessness, not bullying threats, not backstabbing, not even the worst sins…

None of this fazes us because Jesus loves us. I’m absolutely convinced that nothing—nothing living or dead, angelic or demonic, today or tomorrow, high or low, thinkable or unthinkable—absolutely nothing can get between us and God’s love because of the way that Jesus our Master has embraced us.

I don’t know what kinds of burdens you come to Holy Wednesday with, what kind of burdens you bring to this Spy Wednesday. But I’d urge you to fix your eyes on Christ and to walk. I’d urge you to walk, not only these next three days of the Triduum, with powerful confidence in Christ’s love, but to walk the days that follow.

I invite you to persist on, remembering that no matter the sufferings that beset you, you may have confidence that nothing is ever lost to the love of God. Amen.