Saturday, June 27, 2009

Is it with a kiss that you are betraying the Son of Man?

He came out and went, as was his custom, to the Mount of Olives; and the disciples followed him. When he reached the place, he said to them, ‘Pray that you may not come into the time of trial.’ Then he withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, knelt down, and prayed, ‘Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me; yet, not my will but yours be done.’ [[ Then an angel from heaven appeared to him and gave him strength. In his anguish he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down on the ground.]] When he got up from prayer, he came to the disciples and found them sleeping because of grief, and he said to them, ‘Why are you sleeping? Get up and pray that you may not come into the time of trial.’

While he was still speaking, suddenly a crowd came, and the one called Judas, one of the twelve, was leading them. He approached Jesus to kiss him; but Jesus said to him, ‘Judas, is it with a kiss that you are betraying the Son of Man?’ When those who were around him saw what was coming, they asked, ‘Lord, should we strike with the sword?’ Then one of them struck the slave of the high priest and cut off his right ear. But Jesus said, ‘No more of this!’ And he touched his ear and healed him.

- Luke 22:39-51

My first "concern" in this passage is the business with the swords. Why does Jesus tell his disciples (in yesterday's reading) that they need swords? When they get two of them, Jesus says that it is enough. In this passage, the confrontation with the violent begins; a sword is used against the slave of the high priest, and Jesus says, 'No more of this!' and touches his ear and heals him. My conclusion - at this point - is to say that Jesus' concern for his own followers was so complete, he wanted them at least to have some form of protection lest they come to harm. But the aggression and violence should not come from them; and indeed he goes so far as to heal whatever harm they cause to those who've come for him. I also feel that these passages set us down into that place of reversal, and they tell us that Jesus does not know exactly what to expect in terms of the violence with which he will be taken. It may be somewhat controversial, but in this time of reversal, it is not Jesus' power that's being used to create the conflict, but another power over which he is not exerting his control. He knows what's in the mind of others, he has known they wish to kill him, and he knows that it is a time of violence and death. But he cannot predict to what extent the violence will occur, nor even how his own disciples will react. We have free will; we can embrace the Good or that which is against the Good. We make our choices and God himself does not control them. This free will is a part of who we are. Our Lord, here, knows there is great violence afoot, but he is not the author of the violence - these passages tell me the power behind the violence is far away from the power of the Lord. It is something other.

Truly, the nature of violent confrontation is its unpredictability. When war begins, when some sort of conflict starts, part of the nature of its fearfulness and harm is in its unpredictability, and how quickly things can become completely out of hand, and violence can escalate far beyond the understanding even of its originators. We see this time and again in conflict of all forms; there is a chaos and anarchy to violence once it begins. We don't know where it will end; we don't know the limits of depravity even we ourselves could be responsible for in its grasp. But we must come to understand this, and know when we are in "all hell" (to quote Gen. Sherman), and far away from the Lord. We know it is a true breakdown of order, culture, civilization and reason - the opposite of Logos. I believe that this confrontation gives us a glimpse into the spiritual reality of the conflict between good and evil in the world; and the freedom through which we act and make our choices.

We also observe the great fear and foreboding that exists in this scene before the confrontation actually happens. Our Lord, who knows all, does not seem to know precisely how this will happen - again, to my mind, telling us that the nature and author of this violence is far away from the Lord. It is from a different mind and a different source. So fearful is Jesus himself of the outcome of this betrayal and violence that he prays it will pass. I am certain he feared for his flock, for what would become of them if he were put to this violent death. We know he feared for their faith. He tells them here they must pray not to be put to trial. It is a sense in which great evil, once it is plunged into headlong, knows no limits. There is no reason here, no law. The unpredictability itself is evidence of its lawlessness. It is not Christ who behaves without law or reason here, although in this upside-down time of darkness, he's counted as "lawless."

Finally, the great betrayal is the centerpiece of this passage. Judas betrays Jesus with a kiss. And in this act we have the great reversal itself, an example of anti-logic, if you will. A man is sent to his death and destruction through the kiss of an insider, one of the twelve, his inner circle. What is conveyed is a great act for which "hypocrisy" is not a suitable enough word. There's murder in this kiss - and I think we have another spiritual clue about the nature of evil, of violence and death and destruction of the good. That it is the opposite of truth; it must hide its action in a false front, it is a deceiver. This spiritual character of evil is "reversal" itself: nothing is as it seems, it seeks to hide, to convey a nature opposite to itself, it is a trick. This is the substance of our greatest fears.

May God be with you in whatever time of trial you experience in life. May you stand with the Good in all of it, and uphold the values of Good, and God's peace.

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