There is a whole lot of betrayal going on in this morning’s dramatic reading from the Gospel of Matthew. Let’s count the ways…
First is Judas, The Betrayer, who sells Jesus out to the Chief Priests for 30 pieces of silver. And then there are Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, who fail to stay awake while Jesus is praying; and then all the disciples desert him and flee. Caiaphas and the Council stage a trial, using false witnesses and evidence to condemn him to death. And, Peter betrays Jesus again – three more times, before the Cock crows; just as Jesus foretold.
And then, Pilate ignores the plea of his wife, betraying her. And, the Chief Priests betray Jesus again, inciting the crowd to ask for the release of Barabbas. – Which means all the people (and our pamphlet reading makes it clear we are among those people) betrayed Jesus, too, Matthew has us saying “let his Blood be upon us and on our children…!” They knew what they were doing. Even the bandits hanging on crosses on either side of Jesus taunted him.
And finally, Jesus calls out “Eli Eli Lema sabachthani!” meaning “My God My God, why have you betrayed me!?”
In the end, everyone betrays Jesus the Son of God, even God.
I remember when my daughter was quite young. She’d gotten into this mode of lying about just about everything. And one day, after I’d had her sit in a corner for a while, I sat down with her and asked: “My Sweet girl, why did I make you sit in the corner after you lied to Mommy and me again?”
She said “I don’t know.”
I said “I separated you from us for a while because you need to understand that every time you lie, you create a gap between yourself and others. Every lie makes that gap bigger: a bigger gap between you and me; a bigger gap between you and Mommy; and, a bigger gap between you and Jesus. Do you understand?”
Her eyes got wide. She nodded. And that was the end of it.
Sometimes, even though we know in an intellectual sense that doing wrong distances us from others, we don’t understand it in a visceral or emotional sense: “Head Knowledge” vs. “Heart Knowledge.”
But, that’s what sin does. It separates us from each other, and from God – it even separates us from ourselves: it separates us from the person we know we really are down deep, in our heart.
And, our own sins have been piling up for so long that there is no way to bridge the gap between ourselves and our Creator. God becomes ever more distant and unreachable because of the sin within us. And so, Matthew and others teach that because that gap cannot be bridged through human effort, Jesus brought the Gospel to us.
But, the Gospel needs to be understood in more than just an intellectual sense. It’s not just good theology: it’s life. “Head Knowledge” is not enough. Knowing that we are separated from God is not the same as feeling it. The message of the Gospel cannot be fully understood unless we feel the pain and terror of the permanent loss of our connection with God that is caused by our own sin. We need that “Heart Knowledge.”
So Jesus, the one through whom we come to God, had to die. Jesus had to die because of our failure. We had to betray Jesus. And, we did. Jesus died because of our sins. We killed him. We are The Betrayer, despite our best intentions to the contrary. We could not avoid it.
Only then, only once we understand what it means to be the cause of our own eternal separation from God, only when we realize we are The Betrayer, just as Judas was, just as Peter was, can that unbridgeable gap created by our own sin be bridged, through the Grace of God.
But, God betrayed Jesus too. Why?
Jesus is portrayed in Scripture as the one who connects us with God. He is the one who intercedes for us before the Throne of the Almighty. Jesus is the Firstborn of all who are the Children of God. And, through our kinship with Jesus, we are also the beloved Children of God. …He said “God and I are One.”
But, to be Emmanuel, “God who walks with us,” Jesus had to experience all of what it means to be human; including the emptiness, hopelessness and eternal oblivion of death. Jesus had to be separated from God with no way out, just like us. He had to be separated from God with no chance of ever bridging that gap on his own. That “Heart Knowledge” had to be there. He had to face, alone, the terror of the unknown that lies beyond that dark horizon we must all someday cross.
And yet, as I said, Jesus declares that he and “The Father” are one. There is no such gap between Jesus and God. And so, to walk with us and make the Gospel a living reality, Jesus had to be separated from God, just as we are. God had to betray him, too. Only then could he become the Christ, the one who is “fully human and yet also fully divine.”
Palm Sunday and the Passion of Christ take us to this place, this place where Jesus is left for dead: buried, destined to be forgotten. A failed prophet, killed for his foolish rebellion against the earthly powers of his time. Betrayed by everyone who loved him, including our God in Heaven.
In the week to come, we remember that betrayal, the death, and the grave. We know the despair and loss that he and all who loved him felt. We remember that even his disciples felt betrayed by him, for not being who they thought he was. We remember that he lay in that grave of dead hopes and living fear until the morning of the third day.
Easter is coming. But that glad Day of Resurrection, the day of hope reborn and fear conquered, is not yet here. This is the time to remember our betrayal, to consider how our sin separates us from God and from all whom we love. We remember that our sin killed the Son of God; even as we look forward to the redemption to come. The redemption that we do not deserve.
We are the Betrayer. May God forgive us for our sin.
Delivered at ARK Community Church, Dalton MA, April 9, 2017 (Palm Sunday).
“The Passion of Jesus Christ According to St. Matthew” Matthew 26:36-27:66 as a Passion Drama read by the entire congregation, using pamphlets available from St. Gregory’s Episcopal Church, Norton Shores, MI.
Copyright (c) 2017, Allen Vander Meulen III.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.