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.’
In our gospel lesson from John two supporting characters emerge at center stage with Jesus. One of these characters has been in our field of view the whole time. The other makes his official debut in the gospel, somehow avoiding notice until this moment at supper where the flickering candlelight makes shadows jump dramatically on the perimeters of that upper room.
The gospel writer says that Jesus heart was troubled as he announces that someone at the dinner table will betray him. As the disciples’ eyes dart around the room we can feel their uneasiness, perhaps because each of them at one point on their journey with Jesus had considered jumping ship and going back to their old lives and families, back into their individual realms of safety and the familiar. We read earlier in John that as many of Jesus’ followers were abandoning him, He turns to his disciples and asks if they too want to leave. You may remember Peter’s response: ‘Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. 69We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.’*Jesus replied: ‘Did I not choose you, the twelve? Yet one of you is a devil.’