Tag Archives: Betrayal

Pondering Betrayal

caravaggio-judas-kiss-taking-of-christ

And Judas went to the chief priests and the officers of the temple guard and discussed with them how he might betray Jesus. They were delighted and agreed to give him money. He consented, and watched for an opportunity to hand Jesus over to them when no crowd was present. Luke 22:4-5 (NIV)

This morning’s chapter is so full of intriguing details that I feel I could spend the entire day digging deeply into the text and the story. The tidbit that seemed to stir the most thought, however, was Judas’ betrayal.

The traitor is such an archetype in literature and film. I can think of several off the top of my head:

  • Iago (Othello)
  • Macbeth (Macbeth)
  • Saruman (Lord of the Rings)
  • Grima Wormtongue (Lord of the Rings)
  • Edmund (The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe)
  • Peter Pettigrew a.k.a. Wormtail (Harry Potter)
  • Fredo (The Godfather II)
  • Lando Calrissian (Star Wars Episode V)
  • Cypher (The Matrix)

Betrayal is a part of life and I daresay every one of us has experienced some kind of personal betrayal whether it be on the schoolyard playground, our place of work, our family, our church, or the intimacies of courtship, love, and/or marriage. By the same token, I doubt any one of us can claim to be completely innocent of betrayal through the course of our entire life journeys. Human frailties are universal, relationships get messy, and we hurt one another.

There is a betrayal, however, that I believe goes deeper than mere human frailty and self-seeking. Evil exists, and that evil contrives, contorts and manipulates to upend that which is good and life giving in order to replace it with chaos and death. At times our human weaknesses serve darker powers.

Which leads me to thinking about Judas this morning. He had been present with Jesus and the boys for three years. He saw the lame walk, the blind see, and the hungry fed. He heard Jesus’ teaching the same as the rest. Judas watched Jesus loving sinners and speaking out against the hypocrisy and greed of the religious leaders. He witnessed Lazarus raised to life and shuffling out of his tomb still wrapped tightly in his grave clothes.

So what didn’t Judas get that the other eleven did?

The other eleven disciples would spend the rest of their lives bearing witness that Jesus’ was the resurrected Son of God. Ten of those eleven would die brutal deaths because of it (tradition holds that John was the only disciple to die of natural causes). But Judas could never see it. Not only did he not get it, but Judas wasn’t content to merely put in his notice and walk away. There was something deep inside Judas that drove him to betray Jesus to His death…for money. Was it anger? Envy? Spite? Greed? Judas makes for a fascinating character study.

This morning I am thinking about betrayal. I beg forgiveness for the many betrayals I have committed along my journey, and I am choosing to forgive those who have betrayed me. I also find in my heart this morning the desire to seek out all that is good and right and life giving that it might shine the Light into my soul and reveal any seed in me that might ultimately take root lead me down the dark path to further betrayal.

Counselors and Confidants

source: dmcordell via Flickr
source: dmcordell via Flickr

Ahithophel was the king’s counselor.
Hushai the Arkite was the king’s confidant.

1 Chronicles 27:33 (NIV)

Along life’s journey I have had many counselors. Many were trained professionals and I paid for their services. Many were personal friends or relatives with wisdom and a willingness to listen when I needed to bend their ear; Those whom I trusted to provide me sage advice.

I have also had close friends and associates who have been confidants along the journey. These were not necessarily the same a counselors, though some were and are both. A confidant is a person whom I can entrust to know, keep and safely protect personal information and possessions – though I may not be looking for their counsel or advice with those things.

As I read the verse above, I meditated on the fact that each of us need good counselors and good confidants for our respective life journeys. Some may be with us for a lifetime, some for a small stretch of the sojourn, but they each play an important role in our story. Some, as in the case of Ahithophel, may prove to be unworthy of our trust. Ahithophel sided with David’s son Absalom in his plot to overthrow David, and committed suicide when the plot did not succeed. It’s a reminder to be wise in our choices of who we trust. I have my own tragic stories of confidences betrayed, though I choose to let those things go. I have enough to struggle with each day without adding on-going bitterness and animosity to the pile.

This morning I am thinking through the names and faces of those who have been my trustworthy counselors and confidants over the years and how blessed I have been to have each of them in my life.

Small Detail; Big Implication

The Uriah Letter
The mighty men were…

…Uriah the Hittite
1 Chronicles 11:26a;41a (NIV)

Great stories, both real and fiction, are layered with complexities and meaning. As both a reader and a writer, I am always fascinated and inspired with small details that add meaning to the overall story.

Weeks ago we read the story of David and Bathsheba (2 Samuel 11), in which David sleeps with the next door neighbor he’d been voyeuristically watching from his roof. She became pregnant and, to cover up his sin, David conspires to have her husband killed so that he can marry her. Her husband was Uriah, the Hittite. In today’s chapter we come across a small detail that adds layers of complexity to the story. Uriah’s name is listed in the roles of David’s “Mighty Men,” a group of elite special forces. Think about it: Uriah wasn’t just come random, no name infantryman. Uriah was one of David’s most trusted warriors and a member of “The Thirty.” When David arranged to have Uriah killed, it was a man he knew and with whom David had fought battles side-byside. Uriah was one of the best of the best, and a man in whom David entrusted his life. Killing Uriah wasn’t just a king using his power to whack some nameless peasant. Killing Uriah was a personal and professional betrayal in the most heinous sense. This is Judas’ kiss. This is Michael and Fredo. This is Iago and Othello.

I love that a little factual nugget buried in a “boring” chapter of lists can spark my imagination to contemplate so many additional layers of complexity to a story I thought I knew so well. No wonder Uriah lived in a building next to David’s palace. As a member of “The Thirty” he was the king’s body guard. David wrote orders to his commander-in-chief, Joab, to have Uriah killed and then sent it with Uriah back to the front line (talk about a Hollywood moment). This was probably a common. As a member of David’s body guard, Uriah was likely used to carrying messages. I also wonder if David’s orders created an erosion of respect from General Joab. There is a camaraderie among soldiers that is even tighter among special forces. Having Uriah killed would not have been popular move among his men. David’s mistake with Bathsheba was tragic failure on multiple levels.

Today, I’m thinking about how life imitates art and art imitates life. I’m thinking about David’s epic failure in light of my own epic failures. I’m enjoying thinking new and fresh about an old story I’ve known for years, and what that means to both the story and its meaning for me.

 

Chapter-a-Day Psalm 41

The Betrayal of Christ
The Betrayal of Christ (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Even my best friend, the one I trusted completely,
    the one who shared my food, has turned against me.
Psalm 41:9 (NLT)

One might read this verse from Psalm 41 and take it as prophetic. Despite the fact that the lyrics were penned about a thousand years before Christ, the words could have easily come from Jesus’ lips after Judas’ betrayal. Others read this verse and note that King David is a theological “type,” or an Old Testament example pointing to of Christ. I’m not going to dispute either of these positions, but as I read this morning my mind is less given to the prophetic or theological and more in tune with the daily grind of human experience.

Everyone of us have experienced betrayal. I read this verse and specific faces pop into my mind. Scabbed over and forgotten scars on my heart suddenly itch in reminder of their presence. I find the distant memory of hurt, confusion, and anger is suddenly a very present and palpable emotion. It doesn’t take long to stir up long forgotten and powerful negative feelings.

Today, I’m reminded that forgiveness is not a one time decision that erases all traces of an injury, but a recurring decision each time our itching emotional and relational scars threaten to propel us into anger, hatred, and resentment. I’m reminded that betrayal is common to human experience. Therefore, along with King David, and Jesus, it is also a part of each of our individual journeys. I’m also reminded that along my journey I have been the betrayer as well as the betrayed. To hold on to resentment towards my betrayer(s) while desiring or expecting the grace and forgiveness of those I have betrayed along the way is the very definition of hypocritical.

Forgive me my sins, as I forgive those who sin against me.

Chapter-a-Day John 13

 

Peter's Denial by Rembrandt, 1660. Jesus is sh...
Peter's Denial by Rembrandt, 1660. Jesus is shown in the upper right hand corner, his hands bound behind him, turning to look at Peter. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Simon Peter asked, “Lord, where are you going?”
And Jesus replied, “You can’t go with me now, but you will follow me later.”
“But why can’t I come now, Lord?” he asked. “I’m ready to die for you.”
Jesus answered, “Die for me? I tell you the truth, Peter—before the rooster crows tomorrow morning, you will deny three times that you even know me.
John 13:36-38 (NLT) 


It is Holy Week as I write this, the day before Maundy (Sorrowful) Thursday. How appropriate for our chapter-a-day journey to bring us to the events of that night as all who follow after Jesus remember them in our annual pilgrimage through the calendar year.

The truth is, as I sit in the darkness before dawn and read about Judas, and read about Peter, I want to distance myself from them.

“Who is it that will betray you? I would never. Not me. I would never deny you. I’d die for you!” I hear my own spirit in the words of Jesus closest friends. “Not me. I’d never…”

But, then I hear the rooster crowing in my own conscience. I do it every day. I betray Him with each willfully sinful thought, and word, and act. I deny Him with  each self-centered motive. That’s the point. Not that we would be just like Judas and Peter if we were there then, but that we are just like Judas and Peter here and now. That’s why Jesus went to the cross. Not just because of Judas’ kiss, but also because of mine.

Chapter-a-Day Proverbs 24

Time Saving Truth from Falsehood and Envy
Saving Truth from Falsehood and Envy. Image via Wikipedia

An honest answer 
      is like a kiss of friendship.
Proverbs 24:26 (NLT) 

Along the journey, especially with respect to my vocation, I’ve commonly been asked very direct questions from people in authority. It’s not always a comfortable position to be in. I have learned from experience, however, that I am always best served to give an honest, direct answer whether it is what the person wants to hear or not.

The results are not always positive. Solomon said that an honest answer is a kiss of friendship, but that is only when the recipient of the answer recognizes the gift that you’ve given them in your honesty. An honest answer can just as easily be perceived as Judas’ kiss if the hearer is unwilling to hear and accept the honest truth of your response.

I cannot control whether the hearer receives of rejects my honest answer. That is his or her responsibility, not mine. My responsibility is simply to provide the honest answer no matter how I think the hearer will react.

Chapter-a-Day Matthew 26

That is when one of the Twelve, the one named Judas Iscariot, went to the cabal of high priests and said, “What will you give me if I hand him over to you?” They settled on thirty silver pieces. He began looking for just the right moment to hand him over. Matthew 26:14-16 (MSG)

I saw an article last week asking whether Judas Iscariot was in heaven or hell. I didn’t read it. It’s the kind of article that whips up emotions, core beliefs and drives a heated arguments. The publisher loves this, of course, because the buzz gets people reading and responding to the article for which there is really no definitive answer (on this side of eternity) so the paper can’t be faulted for taking the wrong side. It’s a silly argument from my point of view as I’ve come to believe that God’s Judgment Seat is a huge chair, and my butt isn’t that big.

Nevertheless, the question of why Judas betrayed Jesus is one I’m p0ndering this morning as I read the chapter. There were spiritual forces at work. The evil one was certainly not absent. Still, my experience is that there are usually plenty of pre-existing circumstances that make room for the enemy’s presence in a person’s heart. So, this morning I’ve been sketching out a little character study of Judas.

As I journey through the accounts of Jesus’ life and teaching, I constantly run across examples of an ongoing argument among his disciples. Who was greatest? Who was least? Who was going to have a better reward and more honorable position in eternity? There was obviously an inner circle of followers in whom Jesus’ confided and Judas was definitely not one of the inner circle. How badly did this gnaw at Judas? Did the seeds of envy and jealousy help give rise to the fruit of betrayal?

Judas was in charge of the team’s finances. Pretty important position. It was also told that Judas used the position for his own personal gain. I find it interesting that Judas’ betrayal comes immediately after Mary anoints Jesus with an extravagantly expensive perfumed oil.  Had that oil been donated and sold, Judas would have stood to profit from the exchange. Was greed worming its way around his heart, as well? How much did that play a part in tipping the scales from follower to traitor?

Judas betrayal also came at the culmination of an intense amount of conflict. Jesus created a riot when he overturned the moneychangers’ tables at the beginning of the week. There had been an escalating tone to the debate and war of words between the religious leaders and Jesus. Besides, the vision of the disciples riding the gravy train to some glorious take-over and world domination as Jesus ascended a throne in Jerusalem and kicked the Romans out was quickly getting dashed to pieces. The proverbial handwriting was on the wall. A shrewd man could see that the religious leaders would need to kill Jesus to calm the storm he was whipping up against them and to preserve their hold on political power.Besides, Jesus had increasingly been talking about the end of the world and filling his teaching with talk of his death. He was sounding like a mad man, not a king. The future for Jesus’ followers was quickly looking bleak. The pragmatic choice was to throw your lot in with the religious leaders and make enough money to get a new start when the dust settled. In retrospect, for the person concerned with self preservation, it was a simple choice.

Envy, jealousy, greed, and self-centered pragmatism. Those are the core character qualities that I see leading Judas to his decision to betray Jesus. It’s easy to roll my eyes in contempt and shake my head in disbelief at the mention of Judas’ name. However, each and every one of the character qualities which led to his actions are very present in my own heart and life. If you’d like a list of examples, I can give you an earful over coffee. The truth is, I’m not that different than Judas. This is why I’m increasingly reticent slide my rear end onto any kind of seat of judgment.

There, but for the grace of God, go I.

Lord, have mercy on me.

Creative Commons photo courtesy of Flickr and feargal