Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Love in action

"the goodness of God leads you to repentance"
Romans 2:4

Have you ever been a team captain in a "schoolyard pick"?  You know, you choose one, then I choose one, etc.  Or worse, have you ever waited in the group while the captains chose, one by one, and hoped you wouldn't be last? 

I wonder, if Jesus had chosen the disciples in a schoolyard pick, if He would have chosen Judas last. 

I doubt it. 

First of all, Jesus wouldn't have been that obvious.  If the gospel were an after-school special, we might see that:  Judas being picked last, and picked on, all foreshadowing his later actions...

But more than that, I don't really think Jesus differentiated.  When you pick for a team, one can almost see your thoughts.  We recognize the logic in the choices being made:  the strongest, the tallest, the best speller ~ all depends on what's to be contested.

But when Jesus was choosing His disciples, He chose deliberately and purposefully, knowing their strengths and weaknesses.  Peter was impulsive.  Thomas was skeptical.  James and John had strong fleshly ambitions, and were easily angered.  Judas was dishonest, and greedy. 

And not only did Jesus choose each of them, He treated each of them the same.  They knew their own weaknesses, and they certainly saw each others' flaws.  Nevertheless, when Jesus told them that one of them would betray Him, they were stunned.  The New King James translation says they were perplexed.  The NIV says they stared at one another.  Picture twelve guys, mouths agape.

Matthew says that they were exceedingly sorrowful, and that each of them began to say to Him, "Lord, is it I?"  Each disciple was a sinner, and each thought he might be the betrayer.  Can you imagine that feeling?  Peter... John... Nathanael... Philip... each asking the question, and terrified to hear the answer.   They loved Him so much, but each one knew it was possible.  And they were right.  We have no idea what we're really capable of.  This is why we pray, "Lead us not into temptation."

Now, visualize this group of men.  We know that the seating arrangements were not quite as they were depicted by Leonardo da Vinci.  The men were sitting; reclining really.  I once read, though, that the reason they are shown as they are in da Vinci's piece, is simply because they all stood to pose for the picture...

John was on Jesus' right, and Judas on His left, around what is believed to have been a U-shaped table.  And I'm so curious as to how they all ended up in the spots they did, bearing in mind the argument about who was the greatest, and who would sit where in Jesus' kingdom.  (Mark 9, Luke 9)

I wonder if He told them where to sit, or was there something pre-arranged.  Like, when I was growing up, whoever's job it was to do the dishes that week got to sit in the front seat of the car when we were out and about.  Do you suppose the disciples had some sort of arrangement like that?  ;)

I read once that John was the youngest of the disciples, and tradition was that the youngest sat on the right side of the teacher, to ensure the passing on of valuable teachings.   Judas' position, on the left, was a position of honor, as he was to watch the back of the teacher.  If that is the case, it's yet more evidence to me that God loves irony...

Peter, we can tell, wasn't very near to the Lord, so he motioned to John to ask Jesus who he was talking about.  So John leaned back on Jesus' breast  ~ don't you love that visual? ~ and asked, "Lord, who is it?"

And here's where I've been flummoxed all my life.  Jesus pretty much said to John, "I'll show you who it is.  I'm going to dip this bread, and hand it to the one."  And He did.  But somehow, John didn't get the message.

Did he not hear Jesus?  Did none of them hear?  Did John not see Jesus?  Maybe he was turning his attention back to Peter to say, "Yes, I asked Him; be patient!" and in so doing, he missed the signal.

Maybe they thought Jesus was not being literal.  He was like that sometimes, speaking metaphorically.  They'd all been together for three years now, and over that time, surely Jesus had handed bread to several of them.  Maybe John just thought Jesus meant, "It is he to whom I have shown love."  That, of course, could have been any of them.

It's also plausible ~ probable, I think ~ that Jesus veiled their understanding.   Lord knows ~ literally ~ what they would have done if they had realized.  John might have intervened.  Peter might have lopped off Judas' ear.  But Jesus knew how this evening must go.

When Jesus dipped the bread and handed it to Judas, He honored Judas.  He appealed to him.  He knew that Judas had already talked to the high priests and made arrangements.  By handing the bread to him, Jesus was saying to him, "It doesn't have to be this way.  You still have a chance to stop, and change the direction you are going."

I read a commentary on this subject, that said that Jesus was "hoping" that Judas could change his mind.  But that doesn't sound right to me.  Jesus knew he wasn't going to.  I think this gesture was for us.  It's important for us to see Jesus loving Judas, just as He loved each of the other eleven.  He washed Judas' feet, just as He had washed all of their feet.  He knew the choice Judas was going to make, but still He loved him. 

2 Peter 3:9 says that God is longsuffering toward us, because He is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.   He reaches out to us, and shows us love, and appeals to us to come to Him.   God is love.

~ "Behold, I stand at the door and knock.  
If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, 
I will come in to dine with him, and he with Me." ~
Revelation 3:20

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