Jesus was deeply troubled and testified, “Amen, amen, I say to you, one of you will betray me.”
There are only a few moments in the life of Christ when he was “deeply troubled” or sorrowful beyond consolation. We know the Lord wept at the death of his friend Lazarus. We also know that He was troubled at the lack of empathy from his friends: Peter, John and James. And now, we know that He is troubled by the betrayal from his friend Judas. A lack of friendship is what unites these troubling times. Friends can be wonderful as well as troubling. They can be a treasure and a source of tension.
Let’s not think for a moment that friends are more important to us than they are to the Lord. No one likes to lose a friend, not even the Lord. We know that Christ reprimanded the Apostles at times, especially when their conversations or actions were unbecoming of His fellowship. But the Lord never sent any of them away; not Peter or Thomas; not even Judas. He did not wish to lose a single friend. He fought to keep them together till the very end, and he almost succeeded.
Over the years many commentators have tried to explain away Judas as simply an evil or cold-hearted individual. But no man is an island (cf. Is 41:1). We are not so much individual as we are relational. People are who they are based on many factors like education, culture and religion. But we are more like who we are based on our relationships, our upbringing, our family and friends. Given the right time and the right motivation, we are more than capable of betraying as well as befriending. We should know that since we have been at both ends of relationships: friend and foe.
I for one know that I could have easily replaced Judas with myself if I had lived back then. I know that I could have easily have turned my back on the Lord based on my pride and vanity. As a priest, I know how easy it is to betray the Lord in subtle and not so subtle ways. No one becomes evil overnight. No one really “snaps”. What happens is that the individual becomes ever more distant and annoyed at people he once called friends and places he once called home.
A grave injustice would be done if we tried to over simplify our salvation story. Betrayal hits all of us, and it hits us hard. It is almost as old as friendship itself. It should be obvious that friendships precede betrayal. There could be no betrayal if there were no friendships. There would be no betrayals if there was no ability to love. Betrayal will always be evil because evil is the absence of good; and love and friendship are very good.
Judas and Peter hit the Lord hard, very hard. Had he not given enough to them? Had he not given them everything? We betray others when we think we can get something better. Children betray their parents because they think the grass is greener on the other side. This is what kills so many parents. “Do you really think I didn’t love you?” “Do you really think I wouldn’t have given you the best?”
The Lord saw his little flock grow smaller and weaker. He couldn't stop Judas walking out the door or convince Peter of his lie. He closed his eyes at one; he shut his mouth at the other. It all must have felt like a slap in the face or a slap on both cheeks! He must have told himself, “Remember: turn the other cheek!”
The text makes it clear to us that Christ suffered from the loss of his friends. But to say that Judas was never his friend would be a lie. The Lord would not have accepted him or any of them among his intimate circle if he did not consider all to be close friends. Like all of us, he must have thought that love could conquer all things.
Well, it does. Today's lesson is Christ's example through it all. The Lord never changed. How easy it could have been to change. “That’s it. I’m done!” “I’m through with this.” “I give up!” “I give in” “I don’t care anymore” “It’s not worth it” “I’m through.” “I’m finished.”
Let’s learn from the Master himself. You don’t give up till you breathe your last. You never give in. You never give up. You fight till the end. You fight until you win!
The Lord did not change course. On the contrary, he stayed faithful. He doubled his efforts. He stayed committed. He stayed strong. He became the last and finished first.