Based on the following gospel:
READING: John 13: 1, 21-30; 36-38—John 14:1-4
Now before the feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. When Jesus had thus spoken, he was troubled in spirit, and testified, “Truly, truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me.” The disciples looked at one another, uncertain of whom he spoke. One of his disciples, whom Jesus loved, was lying close to the breast of Jesus; so Simon Peter beckoned to him and said, “Tell us who it is of whom he speaks.” So lying thus, close to the breast of Jesus, he said to him, “Lord, who is it?” Jesus answered, “It is he to whom I shall give this morsel when I have dipped it.” So when he had dipped the morsel, he gave it to Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot. Then after the morsel, Satan entered into him. Jesus said to him, “What you are going to do, do quickly.” Now no one at the table knew why he said this to him. Some thought that, because Judas had the money box, Jesus was telling him, “Buy what we need for the feast“; or, that he should give something to the poor. So, after receiving the morsel, he immediately went out; and it was night. Then he said, “Little children, yet a little while I am with you. You will seek me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, `Where I am going you cannot come.’” Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, where are you going?” Jesus answered, “Where I am going you cannot follow me now; but you shall follow afterward.” Peter said to him, “Lord, why cannot I follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.” Jesus answered, “Will you lay down your life for me? Truly, truly, I say to you, the cock will not crow, till you have denied me three times. Then Jesus continued, “Let not your hearts be troubled; believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And when I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way where I am going.”
None of us like to think of ourselves as a betrayer. But in a way, aren’t we all?
We have Judas, of course. Likely one of the greatest villians of literature and art for the past 2,000 years. The one who sold Jesus out for 30 pieces of silver, and who actually pointed out Jesus to the sword-and-club wielding authorities with a kiss. Imagine that. A kiss. He didn’t even have the guts to simply shout out, “There he is! That’s Jesus!” He was two-faced to the very end.
But that is not the only betrayer that we have in the gospel passage today. Jesus told Peter, “Amen I say to you, the cock will not crow three times before you deny me three times.” You could stretch it and translate this as “The cock will not crow before you BETRAY me three times.” He may have not led to the betrayal that broke Jesus’s body, but he sure as anything broke Jesus’s heart.
And then there were the disciples that fell asleep twice during his agony, knowing that Jesus was distraught and in prayer. Betrayal.
And what about the crowds of palm Sunday? The same group who shouted “Hosanna to the son of David!” was the same crowd that screamed “Crucify Him” less than one week later. Betrayal.
What does it really mean to betray? In the Gospel of john, the Greek verb that is used is paradidomai. It can mean to arrest, to betray, and perhaps more literally, to hand over. But that is what we do when we betray a friend. We hand over the friend and trade that friend for something else—whatever that might be. We hand him or her over for another relationship, a selfish pleasure, an addiction, pride, laziness—choose your poison. A betrayal is a betrayal. We sell out a friend for something else, and if a friendship is a true friendship, it deserves to be priceless—never to be sold out, never to be betrayed, never to be handed over.
But that is what we do to Jesus every time we sin. We sell him out. We hand him over so that we can hold onto something else. The key question for a penance service is, “WHAT DO I HAND JESUS OVER FOR?” What is that thing? That idea? That person? That behavior? That resentment? That fear? That drug? What do I sell out the most priceless relationship in the universe for? This is a very good question. For confession, it is THE question.
But the good news is that Jesus knows that it is in our nature to betray. He knew Judas would betray him, and predicted it. He knew that Peter would betray him, and predicted it. Do you know that the only essential difference between Judas, the betrayer, and Peter, the first pope of the church, is that in the end Peter came back to Jesus and reconciled with him and Judas sat in his distrust, shame and despair and ultimately killed himself?
Do you realize that Jesus hung between two thieves—two betrayers—and the only difference is that one mocked Jesus and demanded to be saved and one of them accepted his cross and begged for mercy? The bad thief did not deny that Jesus was the Savior. He was just full of rage about his circumstances, and trying to wriggle out of them no matter what. So you say that you have faith in God and believe that he is the Savior? My response is, “SO WHAT?” Satan believes in Jesus and knows full well who He is, and it isn’t helping him very much. But Satan wants the plan HIS WAY. He wants the world to be his, without the cross, without the effort, without repentance, without bending the knee. And this is the attitude that leads to hell.
So what’s the difference? How can I be saved? How can I not betray? Well, I have already indicated part of the answer. Like Peter, we continually return to the Lord despite our betrayals. Because we WILL fall. But there is a difference between falling ON the road and wandering OFF the road altogether. Like the good thief, we accept the crosses of our state in life and whisper no matter how much it hurts, “Remember me, Lord, when you come into your kingdom.”
Even St. John, the beloved disciple, the only apostle who stayed with Jesus at the foot of the cross, fell asleep when Jesus needed him in the agony in the garden. But here is the difference—HE WAS AT THE FOOT OF THE CROSS. He didn’t understand, he was full of grief, he felt lost, but he knew that Jesus was the Savior and that he promised a kingdom. And so he held onto that—no matter what, he held onto that and refused to let that go. He would not betray THAT precious gift. He would not betray it.
Do you know what I find comforting?
Despite the fact that Jesus KNEW that all his apostles would betray him in different ways, he still tells them at the end of this gospel, “Don’t let your hearts be troubled. I am going to heaven to prepare a place for you anyway.” Wow. Some of the most comforting words ever spoken by Jesus—and spoken right in the middle of his best friends betraying him. What comforting words for us, my fellow traitors. Because if you weren’t a traitor, you wouldn’t be here this evening. If that bothers your pride—good. Maybe your pride needs to be bothered.
This is a house for traitors, tax collectors, and sinners. The sick and the lost. A hospital. A rehabilitation center. The healthy do not need a doctor. The sick do. And thank God for that. And that is exactly why we are here. To thank God for that.
For though we hand him over time and again, he will take us back. And even if we fall asleep, he goes to prepare a place for us so that we can be where he is.
Never tire of picking up your cross and following him.
Never tire of returning to him after every fall.
Because if you do, my friends, a kingdom awaits us where the heart is mended, and there are no tears.
So let’s all help each other there.