Wednesday in Holy Week: John 13:21-32

Then he took a loaf of bread, and when
he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it
to them, saying, "This is my body..." Luke 22:19
(Kirsten Malcolm Berry)
After saying this Jesus was troubled in spirit, and declared, "Very truly, I tell you, one of you will betray me." The disciples looked at one another, uncertain of whom he was speaking. One of his disciples — the one whom Jesus loved — was reclining next to him; Simon Peter therefore motioned to him to ask Jesus of whom he was speaking. So while reclining next to Jesus, he asked him, "Lord, who is it?" Jesus answered, "It is the one to whom I give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish." So when he had dipped the piece of bread, he gave it to Judas son of Simon Iscariot. After he received the piece of bread, Satan entered into him. Jesus said to him, "Do quickly what you are going to do." Now no one at the table knew why he said this to him. Some thought that, because Judas had the common purse, Jesus was telling him, "Buy what we need for the festival"; or, that he should give something to the poor. So, after receiving the piece of bread, he immediately went out. And it was night. When he had gone out, Jesus said, "Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once."

Last year, I remember writing about this passage and coming to a newfound appreciation for it when I did my research and learned that Jesus offering Judas the dipped bread was, in fact, a sign of great love and honor, and the amazing sign it is to us that God shows us such deep love in Christ, even despite our own betrayals and shortcomings. I still find this very moving.

But this year, I have to say, I feel dissatisfied with the above passage. I have little patience today for what seems to be a big charade. Jesus becoming troubled in spirit, talking dramatically (even melodramatically?) about how he would be betrayed by one sitting at the table, the way that he has to be prodded by John (who was first prodded by Peter) to share the identity of the betrayer, and then the way that he doesn't come right out and gives a name, but instead makes a big display of the bread, the dipping, and the handing over of it to reveal the betrayer.

It reminds me of the way that reality shows end each week. Maybe Survivor, when the votes are tallied at tribal council. Maybe the Bachelor, giving away his roses. Maybe the Biggest Loser and the way that everyone reveals their vote using a covered plate (how clever). Maybe America's Next Top Model, when Tyra keeps revealing the pictures of those who are safe for another week. Maybe even American Idol or Dancing With the Stars, and the paring down of contestants into a small group of the lowest vote-getters. (I don't watch that much reality TV, I promise...)

Each show has its closing ritual - the awkward, contrived, melodramatic space where the group has to look one another in the eye, rehash each others' virtues and faults, second-guess their actions and efforts, and come face-to-face with the reality of the situation (despite whatever meddling the producers have done along the way). And then...

A commercial break.

And THEN, the reveal. In some of these reality shows, nearly half of the show is dedicated to the "voting off" process. Would it be easier just to reveal the episode's loser without all the pomp and ceremony? Of course. Would it be better TV? Well, probably not. Would it be as effective? No! This is because there is something important about the suspense, no matter how contrived.

The suspense gives each contestant time to worry that they might be the one voted off. The slow pace forces each contestant into a place where they consider all the reasons that they might honestly be the one going home. The drawn-out ceremony allows the TV audience to weigh again the merits and problems with their favorite (or least-favorite!) competitors. It gives all of us a chance to consider that we might be wrong.

So maybe this business with Jesus and Judas serves the same purpose. The slow pace, the contrived ceremony, the artificially-imposed suspense: these things give each disciple plenty of time to realize that they might actually be the one. It gives them space to consider the lesser parts of their souls, and to admit that they are as likely to be betrayers as anyone else. The slow pace of things gives that same opportunity to each of us as we read the account.

Because the truth of the matter is that we all have our own reasons to believe that we are the ones capable of denying and betraying Jesus. We all have times when our motives are less-than-honorable, or times when we take the easy way out, or times when we would rather save our own skin rather than stand up for what is right.

So I guess this brings me right back to last year, and right back to the bread. Jesus handed off the bread to Judas, honoring him, loving him, promising to die for him. When we remember the Last Supper in worship tomorrow night, Jesus hands each of us the bread as well. We've had time to think about the sinful parts of ourselves - to consider how are prone to betrayal and denial. But in that bread, given to us and for us, we know that we, like Judas, are yet redeemed.

It turns out that Jesus was never much a fan of voting people off the island...

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