Judas and our fear of intimacy
Maundy Thursday | Mark 14:12-25
By this point in the week
I have this strange conceit. When I get into Holy Week, I have this sense that I should read the gospel as if I’ve never read it before. That we’re reading about something that is so close, so familiar, but we have to pretend like we don’t know it. Like something big just happened this week, one year ago. The haunting memory of what has happened saturates the pages and we are fighting with ourselves to hear it like a story, like we really need to get into it, but the newspapers have made it present.
This is not a celebrity murder case, of course. I know that. But there’s something about this that it feels like we’re retracing the footsteps, trying to get into the minds of the people that were there. Maybe that’s just me.
So we have come to that point in the story in which we can’t honestly stop reading. We can’t pretend as if we aren’t invested in it. We need to see it out.
We’ve seen Jesus mock Rome’s imperial style. We’ve seen Jesus trash the Temple and humiliate the leadership. These three acts get the crowd so excited, so ready to do what Jesus wants, a lesser person would squeeze in one more day in the limelight. Just one more chance to be adored. But Jesus stayed in Bethany. He received his anointing from the unnamed woman and he is prepared for burial.
Cue the lights, we’re ready for the big show. This is it.
In Mark’s telling, the disciples don’t come off well. None of them. The whole trip to Jerusalem, they’re confused, unobservant. They bicker over what the plan is and who gets to be in charge. Two of them even have the audacity to claim special status: like Jesus’s elite followers, the Platinum club. We’ll face death with you! they argue. It’s quite precious, really.
It is no doubt that they are our way into the story, who we are supposed to be. But the writer of Mark is really hard them. They are so ill prepared for this moment, so unready to take over for Jesus. They are such a contrast to Jesus.
And yet, Jesus comes to them, describes for them, his coming as the Human One, the most human one, the one like them. Not the king, the general, the powerful leader that will bring the revolution they’ve been hoping for: but the human one. Like us. Flawed, weak. Perhaps prone to screwing up.
Like these disciples? Is Jesus really that human?
The writer of Mark gives us another problem to chew on while we’re at it. [Don’t worry, its related.]
Jesus gathers the disciples for the Passover. All of them. Including the one planning on betraying him. Jesus knows he’s there, knows his plan, knows that this is their final night all together. And yet Judas, the Betrayer is welcome to the table. He eats with them.
The other gospel writers couldn’t handle this. They had to find creative solutions to deal with Judas. Particularly after the betrayal. Ways to get rid of him, humiliate him, demonstrate what it means to cross Jesus. So they avenge Jesus’s betrayal in the telling of the story. But the writer of Mark presents Judas, not as a traitor, kicked out, but as one of them. He keeps referring to the disciples as “The Twelve”, even when it becomes eleven. And every time Judas is named, he is called Judas, One of the Twelve.
The writer of Mark takes great pains to point out the whole of the community, the part everyone gets to play. That the disciples mess up and that one makes a big mistake, a huge mistake, but he isn’t simply written out of the story or replaced in Mark. He remains one of them, even after he leaves.
This vision we receive on Thursday is rightly remembered as the “Institution of the Lord’s Supper”, a powerful moment of teaching and community building. We restate these words of Jesus’s when we gather to do likewise, when we share in the Lord’s Supper: a Passover meal of sorts. We share the bread, saying to each other “The Body of Christ” and then offering the wine we say to each other “The Blood of Christ”. We do what the disciples were told to do. And we remember him in that moment, we remind one another of the story, like they no doubt were doing in that fateful Passover, sharing in the story of redemption and the liberating power of GOD. We do that, too.
A story easy to hear when we’re happy. Easy to recreate when we’re motivated; in a good head space. But when we’re struggling? Well…that’s a different story.
I think that’s a big reason why the writer shows the disciples in that light, the struggling light: imperfect. Very imperfect, actually. Screw ups.
And it is why Judas remains one of them in this telling. It is why the disciples don’t get rid of Judas and the other writers feel so compelled to deal with him. We don’t want him to be one of us. But he is. Like when Jesus says to the disciples on Wednesday that the poor will always be with them, but the Human One won’t, Judas will always be with them. He is one of the Twelve, now and always.
I’m relieved to know that Judas gets to stay. I don’t know about you. Maybe we’re too busy thinking we’re Peter or the Beloved Disciple, or maybe the one who gets away naked (we’ll hear that one tomorrow). Or maybe we don’t put ourselves into disciples’ shoes or try to be free agents like Mary or Mary Magdalene. Very convenient. And very easy to condemn Judas from there.
Jesus, however, sets the table for everybody, and invites them all, even the traitor.
Keeping it 100
In our church, we like to say that “All are welcome!” And we genuinely believe it. And I think we’re pretty good at it. But I wonder if we’re more fond of the other gospel writers, who “take care of” Judas. 92% of the 12 disciples make the cut. Those are pretty good numbers. It’s just not really “all”.
When the writer reminds us over and over again that the disciples are “Twelve” and that Judas is one of those twelve, we are being reminded of our imperfection, of our incompleteness. We are reminded that we aren’t “all” and won’t really ever be. Not like this, not as we are.
And I don’t think we’re really supposed to be. We aren’t supposed to be perfect or pure. We shouldn’t worry about who we sell flowers to or whose prescriptions we fill. No amount of freedom or order will bring perfection. Or maintain our cultic purity.
This is the reason I like the practice of washing feet. Few things, across all cultures, remind us of our impurity, of our imperfection, like our smelly, funky feet. And there is nothing I want to do less than to go about touching anyone’s stinky feet. But I’m a good Christian, so I will, we think. Just today.
Really, though, I think most of us would rather wash someone else’s feet than have our own washed by them. We aren’t really worried about purity or about doing the “right” thing. We’re worried about intimacy and vulnerability. Of being wrong or failing. Of not being on the inside, so we’ll make sure that the one kicked out isn’t us. The one hurt isn’t us. The one exposed isn’t us.
This is what the Last Supper really means to us. About keeping it 100. Not 92. 100.
Of not worrying about failing or about being vulnerable, but risking vulnerability for something better, something more important. To do what Brene Brown calls “Daring Greatly”. And to do that audacious thing with other people.
We’re human. Like the Human One. The one who gathered us, brought us here, and invited us to share with one another, give to one another, and love one another. And then, to keep at it. Always.