Love and betrayal – Br. Geoffrey Tristram
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Today, on this Wednesday in Holy Week, we have just heard read one of the most emotionally charged passages in all the Gospels. In an act of intimate, self-giving love, Jesus has just washed his disciples’ feet. But he then turns from love, to betrayal. We are told, laconically that Jesus is ‘troubled in spirit’; perhaps an understatement. For he has just washed Judas’ feet. Jesus loved Judas, as he did all his disciples. Jesus’ heart likely burned with a deep sorrow at what Judas was about to do.
But love and betrayal exist side by side. And there is a very close parallel between what Jesus did by washing his disciples’ feet, and what Judas was about to do. That parallel is made very clear by one word in the text, and that is the word betrayal. But that is only one translation of the word used by John. In the Greek of the original text, the word translated as ‘betrayal’, is ‘paradidomai’. This literally means ‘to hand over or give over power to another, or to hand over another into the power of another’. Here, that verb is translated as ‘to betray’ because this ‘handing over’ of Jesus by Judas is done treacherously. But elsewhere in the New Testament this very same word is used in a beautiful and loving way. In the letter to the Ephesians for example, we read that Jesus ‘has loved us and given himself for us.’ The same verb, paradidomai. Jesus so loves us that he freely gives himself over to the power of another. And this is what Jesus was expressing so beautifully when he laid aside his robe and washed his disciples’ feet. So great is his love for us that he laid down his divine power and became as a servant; became vulnerable and ‘woundable’. Through love he exposed himself to the power of Judas, he gave himself over to the power of the darkness in men’s hearts, ‘and it was night.’
Judas hands over Jesus for personal gain, and it is called betrayal. Jesus hands himself over for our sake, and it’s called love. Love and betrayal exist side by side. But we know that in our own hearts and in our own experience of life. In our relationships, in marriage and other forms of deep commitment, we too long to give ourselves over to our beloved. In a sense we ‘lay down our power ‘in self-offering to the one we love. But we will only do that if we trust them. Only then do we feel safe to lower our defenses, to become vulnerable, ‘woundable’. But if that trust is betrayed it can feel like a death. And for Jesus in that garden – betrayed by a kiss – it must have felt like a death, even before the Cross.
When we are betrayed by one we love, it is often impossible to regain trust: something has died. For many, betrayal marks the bitter end of a relationship. For Jesus, this first ‘death’ in Gethsemane, this first betrayal, is followed by other deaths which we recall over these days of Holy Week. There is the ‘death’ of Peter’s denial, the ‘death’ of abandonment by most of his friends, and then at the very end, the ‘death’ of abandonment even by his Father. As Paul puts it inRomans, ‘God did not spare his own Son, but delivered him up (paradidomai) for us all. But hanging on the Cross at the last moment of agony, the Father’s ‘delivering up’ may have felt as more of a betrayal: ‘Why have you forsaken me?’
For many, betrayal marks the end of a relationship, the end of love. But the wonder of the Cross, what brings us to our knees in awe, is that Jesus on the Cross, betrayed, abandoned, alone, is able to forgive. No betrayal, no amount of darkness in men’s hearts, can extinguish that love which is immortal.
Love and betrayal. They exist side by side. But love conquers all. And so, on this day, there is perhaps an invitation to reflect on our own lives. What do we know of betrayal and the loss of trust? What is there of Judas in our hearts? When have we turned away from the light and betrayed Jesus in our words and through our actions? When have we handed ourselves over to the night? And then secondly, today, and throughout these days of Holy Week, we are invited to renew our love for Jesus, our trust in Jesus. Hear again his gracious words of forgiveness, become vulnerable again to his love, and give ourselves over to him anew.
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Beautiful and heartbreaking words. I am thankful to our Lord for love that continues despite and alongside betrayal.
Thank you so much Br Geoffrey. This is to keep. Enlightening and also – like a poem or piece of art- it touches deep places that make me pause and search and ponder.