If you have ever been betrayed by a close friend, you know what a sick feeling it is. Many years ago, we were having a meeting at church, with all of our ministry leaders. We were sitting in a large circle, discussing the direction of the church. Out of the blue, one of my leaders, a young man I had invested in quite heavily, verbally attacked me. He challenged my leadership and my character, in front of the whole group. The circle sat in shocked silence. I felt like I had been punched in the stomach.
David expressed his deep emotions about being betrayed in Psalm 41.
All my enemies whisper together against me; they imagine the worst for me, saying, "A vile disease has beset him; he will never get up from the place where he lies."
Even my close friend, whom I trusted, he who shared my bread, has lifted up his heel against me.
But you, O Lord, have mercy on me; raise me up, that I may repay them. I know that you are pleased with me, for my enemy does not triumph over me. In my integrity you uphold me and set me in your presence forever.
Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, from everlasting to everlasting. Amen and Amen.
We don’t know what betrayal David as lamenting, but his words foreshadowed an even greater betrayal. It happened among a close group of friends, in an upper room, on the day that we call Maundy Thursday. All four of the gospels chronicle Judas’ clandestine deal with the Pharisees to hand over Jesus to them. The Gospel of John takes us right to the moment of confrontation between Judas and Jesus.
"I am not referring to all of you; I know those I have chosen. But this is to fulfill the scripture: 'He who shares my bread has lifted up his heel against me.' "I am telling you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe that I am He. I tell you the truth, whoever accepts anyone I send accepts me; and whoever accepts me accepts the one who sent me."
After he had said this, Jesus was troubled in spirit and testified, "I tell you the truth, one of you is going to betray me."
His disciples stared at one another, at a loss to know which of them he meant. One of them, the disciple whom Jesus loved, was reclining next to him. Simon Peter motioned to this disciple and said, "Ask him which one he means."
Leaning back against Jesus, he asked him, "Lord, who is it?"
Jesus answered, "It is the one to whom I will give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish." Then, dipping the piece of bread, he gave it to Judas Iscariot, son of Simon. As soon as Judas took the bread, Satan entered into him.
"What you are about to do, do quickly," Jesus told him, but no one at the meal understood why Jesus said this to him. Since Judas had charge of the money, some thought Jesus was telling him to buy what was needed for the Feast, or to give something to the poor. As soon as Judas had taken the bread, he went out. And it was night. John 13:18-30
There are several things that stand out for me in this dramatic passage.
Jesus was fully aware of what was going on, yet he did not act to stop it. Jesus chose not to defend himself in this situation, even knowing that the outcome would be bad. All that Jesus had to do was point a finger at Judas and the plot would have been foiled.
Jesus refused to confront Judas directly. He made it clear that he was aware of the plot, but he gave no details. He just said that one of the twelve would be the culprit. He intentionally said this so that his disciples would know truth when it happened.
Jesus referred to David’s words in Psalm 41. Jesus counted Judas among his closest friends. Jesus had intentionally hand-picked Judas. Judas had shared daily life with Jesus for over three years. That intimacy heightened the intensity and grief of the betrayal.
Jesus gave Judas a chance to recant. Without tipping his hand, Jesus made it clear to Judas that he knew it was Judas who would betray him. I can hear the compassion in Jesus’ voice and see the love in his eyes. His words were not hard edged, but an invitation to take another course of action. Up until Judas took the bread, he could have turned back. But, John records, as soon as Judas took the bread, Satan took control. Jesus, knowing Judas’ heart, let him go.
When we feel betrayed, our first reaction is to lash out in anger, but Jesus responded in love. We are tempted to justify ourselves, and in doing so, demean the other person, but Jesus remained silent. Our hurt feelings establish a gulf between us and the other person, but Jesus extended grace. Our desire often turns to getting even, but Jesus left the outcome in God’s hands.
As followers of Christ, we are called to live in Christ-like ways, especially in difficult times. Paul summarized the approach we should take when we feel that we have been betrayed.
Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written: "It is mine to avenge; I will repay," says the Lord. On the contrary: "If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head." Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.