Reading: John 13:21-32
I have a game I like to play with the Gospels.
Here are the rules: read what the text says, independent of everything you’ve ever heard about it, including what you might ordinarily tack on to the sides from other versions of the same story in the other Gospels.
I’ve said before that I think Judas is unfairly demonized by the Gospels and, by extension, how these stories have been passed down. Put your hands over your ears if need be and read this text in isolation.
Adam Hamilton’s “24 Hours that Changed the World” does a great job of unpacking the seating arrangement at this meal. The table is likely set up in the shape of the letter U, allowing serving food from the center and washing of feet from the outside. Jesus is second from the end; Peter is across at the other end of the U, which is why he does the middle school boy loud-hissy-whisper thing at the beloved disciple. Judas is next to Jesus, in the place of honor. Judas handled the finances of the group, indicating more than a little trust. Knock the growing drama off what you’re imagining—until this moment, everybody but Jesus thinks this is just a shared meal. Suddenly Jesus is overwhelmed. “I’m telling you, honestly: one of you will betray me.”
Here’s a fun question to play with: what if Judas was the only one Jesus trusted to betray him?
Look how casually it plays out in John 13: Jesus announces that one in the room will play the betrayer. You can feel a palpable and totally reasonable, “Is it me?” from the room. But what if it wasn’t a guilty stomach-punch sensation? What if it was fear of carrying out an undesired responsibility? “Oh no. Does that have to be me?”
Back to casual, but play it my way for a minute. Jesus announces. Peter, totally suspecting this is something Jesus would ask him to do, whisper-points at Mr. Beloved to ask Jesus to drop the other shoe. Jesus, rather than point, turns it into a draw-straws game with a single straw. “I’m going to dip this bread, then I’m going to hand it to the responsible person.”
You, Judas. I trust you to put this all in motion.
What do you think about all of that? Judas’ role was necessary. Could it also have been directed by Jesus?
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