Tag Archives: Betrayal

“The Woman”

While he was in Bethany, reclining at the table in the home of Simon the Leper, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, made of pure nard. She broke the jar and poured the perfume on his head.
Mark 14:3 (NIV)

In today’s chapter, Jesus was at a dinner party given in His honor. Mark wrote the shortest of the four biographies of Jesus, and his efficiency in story-telling requires that details be left out in order to get to the heart of the matter. In this case, however, I found that the omission of certain details also reduced the power of the moment.

Mark states that “a woman” anoints Jesus with some audaciously expensive perfume. John, who was present at the dinner party, explains in his account (John 12) that the person Mark calls “a woman” was Mary, the sister of Lazarus, whom Jesus had just raised from the dead. The other thing we know about Mary is that much earlier when Jesus paid a visit to the home of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus she had been chastised by her sister, Martha, for not helping with dinner (see Luke 10). Mary was intent on sitting near Jesus and listening to Him while Martha dutifully prepared supper. In John’s account of the dinner party, Martha was once again focused on serving. Mary was focused on Jesus.

I had a couple of observations as I contemplated the scene this morning.

Jesus said that Mary, in anointing him with the perfume, was preparing Him “for burial.” Because of the lack of modern embalming methods, bodies were covered in perfumes and ointments that would counteract the stench of death that the body would emit relatively quickly. Yet, Mary’s act is happening a couple of days before Jesus would be arrested and executed.

While #TheTwelve and Jesus’ other followers are deaf and defensive to Jesus repeatedly insisting that He would suffer, die, and be resurrected, Mary embraces what Jesus has been saying. She shows faith and trust that no one else did. Her act metaphorically tells Jesus, “If this is what must be done, then I’m in. I’m going to trust you, that it will be just as you said. Allow me the honor of preparing you for what you say you must do.”

Mary does this immediately after she witnessed Jesus literally calling her brother out of the grave. Mary was standing there when Jesus said to her sister Martha: “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?” Mary’s anointing of Jesus also symbolically says “I believe. I believe you are the Resurrection and the Life. I believe you will die and that you’ll be raised from the dead just as you said.”

It is, ironically, Judas who questions the “waste” of the expensive perfume (worth an entire year of typical wages in those days) which he says could have been sold and used for more “practical” purposes. Jesus rebukes Judas sharply. To paraphrase: “Judas, shut up and leave Mary alone. This woman understands what I’m doing better than you and the other eleven.” I can’t help but hear the echoes of Jesus repeatedly asking #TheTwelve in previous chapters: “You still don’t understand?” It was Mary, who had been intent on watching and listening to Jesus, who saw it better than anyone else. It was this rebuke that sends Judas over the edge. He leaves the dinner party to arrange his betrayal.

I also hear the echoes of Jesus’ repeated admonition, “If you have ears to hear.” Mary’s spiritual ears were wide open to hear what no one else heard. Her spiritual eyes saw what no one else did. She was the only one connecting the spiritual dots between what Jesus had said and done raising her brother from the dead, and what Jesus said was going to happen to Him. And, she was the one who had been intent on sticking close to Jesus to watch, listen, and learn.

In the quiet this morning, I find it poignant that the person who seemed to “get it” was a woman outside of #TheTwelve. In those days, women were considered second rate to men. They were often treated as possessions and they typically had little education or social standing. It is a recurring theme in the Great Story for God to choose and to use the least, the youngest, the broken, the weak, and the marginalized to demonstrate His power. At the beginning of the Great Story is was “the woman” who was blamed for Adam and Eve’s disobedience. In this case, it was “a woman” who understands what Jesus is doing. In a few days, it will be “the women” who first hear of the resurrection. It will be “the women” who are the first to believe it. It will be “the women” who are entrusted to share the good news with #TheTwelve. I believe that there is an important lesson for me in this.

I have observed along my journey that even today it is often “the women,” like Mary, who show a greater interest in and sensitivity to the things of the Spirit, as well as a greater understanding of what God is up to. I have come to embrace that I have a lot to learn from them. I also have come to embrace the reality that it is sometimes those whom I’d least expect who get the things of God better than I do. Mary reminds me that in this spiritual journey, humility is required.

All of Tom’s chapter-a-day posts from Mark are compiled in a simple visual index for you.

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Pondering Betrayal

caravaggio-judas-kiss-taking-of-christ

And Judas went to the chief priests and the officers of the temple guard and discussed with them how he might betray Jesus. They were delighted and agreed to give him money. He consented, and watched for an opportunity to hand Jesus over to them when no crowd was present. Luke 22:4-5 (NIV)

This morning’s chapter is so full of intriguing details that I feel I could spend the entire day digging deeply into the text and the story. The tidbit that seemed to stir the most thought, however, was Judas’ betrayal.

The traitor is such an archetype in literature and film. I can think of several off the top of my head:

  • Iago (Othello)
  • Macbeth (Macbeth)
  • Saruman (Lord of the Rings)
  • Grima Wormtongue (Lord of the Rings)
  • Edmund (The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe)
  • Peter Pettigrew a.k.a. Wormtail (Harry Potter)
  • Fredo (The Godfather II)
  • Lando Calrissian (Star Wars Episode V)
  • Cypher (The Matrix)

Betrayal is a part of life and I daresay every one of us has experienced some kind of personal betrayal whether it be on the schoolyard playground, our place of work, our family, our church, or the intimacies of courtship, love, and/or marriage. By the same token, I doubt any one of us can claim to be completely innocent of betrayal through the course of our entire life journeys. Human frailties are universal, relationships get messy, and we hurt one another.

There is a betrayal, however, that I believe goes deeper than mere human frailty and self-seeking. Evil exists, and that evil contrives, contorts and manipulates to upend that which is good and life giving in order to replace it with chaos and death. At times our human weaknesses serve darker powers.

Which leads me to thinking about Judas this morning. He had been present with Jesus and the boys for three years. He saw the lame walk, the blind see, and the hungry fed. He heard Jesus’ teaching the same as the rest. Judas watched Jesus loving sinners and speaking out against the hypocrisy and greed of the religious leaders. He witnessed Lazarus raised to life and shuffling out of his tomb still wrapped tightly in his grave clothes.

So what didn’t Judas get that the other eleven did?

The other eleven disciples would spend the rest of their lives bearing witness that Jesus’ was the resurrected Son of God. Ten of those eleven would die brutal deaths because of it (tradition holds that John was the only disciple to die of natural causes). But Judas could never see it. Not only did he not get it, but Judas wasn’t content to merely put in his notice and walk away. There was something deep inside Judas that drove him to betray Jesus to His death…for money. Was it anger? Envy? Spite? Greed? Judas makes for a fascinating character study.

This morning I am thinking about betrayal. I beg forgiveness for the many betrayals I have committed along my journey, and I am choosing to forgive those who have betrayed me. I also find in my heart this morning the desire to seek out all that is good and right and life giving that it might shine the Light into my soul and reveal any seed in me that might ultimately take root lead me down the dark path to further betrayal.

Counselors and Confidants

source: dmcordell via Flickr
source: dmcordell via Flickr

Ahithophel was the king’s counselor.
Hushai the Arkite was the king’s confidant.

1 Chronicles 27:33 (NIV)

Along life’s journey I have had many counselors. Many were trained professionals and I paid for their services. Many were personal friends or relatives with wisdom and a willingness to listen when I needed to bend their ear; Those whom I trusted to provide me sage advice.

I have also had close friends and associates who have been confidants along the journey. These were not necessarily the same a counselors, though some were and are both. A confidant is a person whom I can entrust to know, keep and safely protect personal information and possessions – though I may not be looking for their counsel or advice with those things.

As I read the verse above, I meditated on the fact that each of us need good counselors and good confidants for our respective life journeys. Some may be with us for a lifetime, some for a small stretch of the sojourn, but they each play an important role in our story. Some, as in the case of Ahithophel, may prove to be unworthy of our trust. Ahithophel sided with David’s son Absalom in his plot to overthrow David, and committed suicide when the plot did not succeed. It’s a reminder to be wise in our choices of who we trust. I have my own tragic stories of confidences betrayed, though I choose to let those things go. I have enough to struggle with each day without adding on-going bitterness and animosity to the pile.

This morning I am thinking through the names and faces of those who have been my trustworthy counselors and confidants over the years and how blessed I have been to have each of them in my life.

Small Detail; Big Implication

The Uriah Letter
The mighty men were…

…Uriah the Hittite
1 Chronicles 11:26a;41a (NIV)

Great stories, both real and fiction, are layered with complexities and meaning. As both a reader and a writer, I am always fascinated and inspired with small details that add meaning to the overall story.

Weeks ago we read the story of David and Bathsheba (2 Samuel 11), in which David sleeps with the next door neighbor he’d been voyeuristically watching from his roof. She became pregnant and, to cover up his sin, David conspires to have her husband killed so that he can marry her. Her husband was Uriah, the Hittite. In today’s chapter we come across a small detail that adds layers of complexity to the story. Uriah’s name is listed in the roles of David’s “Mighty Men,” a group of elite special forces. Think about it: Uriah wasn’t just come random, no name infantryman. Uriah was one of David’s most trusted warriors and a member of “The Thirty.” When David arranged to have Uriah killed, it was a man he knew and with whom David had fought battles side-byside. Uriah was one of the best of the best, and a man in whom David entrusted his life. Killing Uriah wasn’t just a king using his power to whack some nameless peasant. Killing Uriah was a personal and professional betrayal in the most heinous sense. This is Judas’ kiss. This is Michael and Fredo. This is Iago and Othello.

I love that a little factual nugget buried in a “boring” chapter of lists can spark my imagination to contemplate so many additional layers of complexity to a story I thought I knew so well. No wonder Uriah lived in a building next to David’s palace. As a member of “The Thirty” he was the king’s body guard. David wrote orders to his commander-in-chief, Joab, to have Uriah killed and then sent it with Uriah back to the front line (talk about a Hollywood moment). This was probably a common. As a member of David’s body guard, Uriah was likely used to carrying messages. I also wonder if David’s orders created an erosion of respect from General Joab. There is a camaraderie among soldiers that is even tighter among special forces. Having Uriah killed would not have been popular move among his men. David’s mistake with Bathsheba was tragic failure on multiple levels.

Today, I’m thinking about how life imitates art and art imitates life. I’m thinking about David’s epic failure in light of my own epic failures. I’m enjoying thinking new and fresh about an old story I’ve known for years, and what that means to both the story and its meaning for me.

 

Chapter-a-Day Psalm 41

The Betrayal of Christ
The Betrayal of Christ (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Even my best friend, the one I trusted completely,
    the one who shared my food, has turned against me.
Psalm 41:9 (NLT)

One might read this verse from Psalm 41 and take it as prophetic. Despite the fact that the lyrics were penned about a thousand years before Christ, the words could have easily come from Jesus’ lips after Judas’ betrayal. Others read this verse and note that King David is a theological “type,” or an Old Testament example pointing to of Christ. I’m not going to dispute either of these positions, but as I read this morning my mind is less given to the prophetic or theological and more in tune with the daily grind of human experience.

Everyone of us have experienced betrayal. I read this verse and specific faces pop into my mind. Scabbed over and forgotten scars on my heart suddenly itch in reminder of their presence. I find the distant memory of hurt, confusion, and anger is suddenly a very present and palpable emotion. It doesn’t take long to stir up long forgotten and powerful negative feelings.

Today, I’m reminded that forgiveness is not a one time decision that erases all traces of an injury, but a recurring decision each time our itching emotional and relational scars threaten to propel us into anger, hatred, and resentment. I’m reminded that betrayal is common to human experience. Therefore, along with King David, and Jesus, it is also a part of each of our individual journeys. I’m also reminded that along my journey I have been the betrayer as well as the betrayed. To hold on to resentment towards my betrayer(s) while desiring or expecting the grace and forgiveness of those I have betrayed along the way is the very definition of hypocritical.

Forgive me my sins, as I forgive those who sin against me.

Chapter-a-Day John 13

 

Peter's Denial by Rembrandt, 1660. Jesus is sh...
Peter's Denial by Rembrandt, 1660. Jesus is shown in the upper right hand corner, his hands bound behind him, turning to look at Peter. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Simon Peter asked, “Lord, where are you going?”
And Jesus replied, “You can’t go with me now, but you will follow me later.”
“But why can’t I come now, Lord?” he asked. “I’m ready to die for you.”
Jesus answered, “Die for me? I tell you the truth, Peter—before the rooster crows tomorrow morning, you will deny three times that you even know me.
John 13:36-38 (NLT) 


It is Holy Week as I write this, the day before Maundy (Sorrowful) Thursday. How appropriate for our chapter-a-day journey to bring us to the events of that night as all who follow after Jesus remember them in our annual pilgrimage through the calendar year.

The truth is, as I sit in the darkness before dawn and read about Judas, and read about Peter, I want to distance myself from them.

“Who is it that will betray you? I would never. Not me. I would never deny you. I’d die for you!” I hear my own spirit in the words of Jesus closest friends. “Not me. I’d never…”

But, then I hear the rooster crowing in my own conscience. I do it every day. I betray Him with each willfully sinful thought, and word, and act. I deny Him with  each self-centered motive. That’s the point. Not that we would be just like Judas and Peter if we were there then, but that we are just like Judas and Peter here and now. That’s why Jesus went to the cross. Not just because of Judas’ kiss, but also because of mine.

Chapter-a-Day Proverbs 24

Time Saving Truth from Falsehood and Envy
Saving Truth from Falsehood and Envy. Image via Wikipedia

An honest answer 
      is like a kiss of friendship.
Proverbs 24:26 (NLT) 

Along the journey, especially with respect to my vocation, I’ve commonly been asked very direct questions from people in authority. It’s not always a comfortable position to be in. I have learned from experience, however, that I am always best served to give an honest, direct answer whether it is what the person wants to hear or not.

The results are not always positive. Solomon said that an honest answer is a kiss of friendship, but that is only when the recipient of the answer recognizes the gift that you’ve given them in your honesty. An honest answer can just as easily be perceived as Judas’ kiss if the hearer is unwilling to hear and accept the honest truth of your response.

I cannot control whether the hearer receives of rejects my honest answer. That is his or her responsibility, not mine. My responsibility is simply to provide the honest answer no matter how I think the hearer will react.

Chapter-a-Day Matthew 26

That is when one of the Twelve, the one named Judas Iscariot, went to the cabal of high priests and said, “What will you give me if I hand him over to you?” They settled on thirty silver pieces. He began looking for just the right moment to hand him over. Matthew 26:14-16 (MSG)

I saw an article last week asking whether Judas Iscariot was in heaven or hell. I didn’t read it. It’s the kind of article that whips up emotions, core beliefs and drives a heated arguments. The publisher loves this, of course, because the buzz gets people reading and responding to the article for which there is really no definitive answer (on this side of eternity) so the paper can’t be faulted for taking the wrong side. It’s a silly argument from my point of view as I’ve come to believe that God’s Judgment Seat is a huge chair, and my butt isn’t that big.

Nevertheless, the question of why Judas betrayed Jesus is one I’m p0ndering this morning as I read the chapter. There were spiritual forces at work. The evil one was certainly not absent. Still, my experience is that there are usually plenty of pre-existing circumstances that make room for the enemy’s presence in a person’s heart. So, this morning I’ve been sketching out a little character study of Judas.

As I journey through the accounts of Jesus’ life and teaching, I constantly run across examples of an ongoing argument among his disciples. Who was greatest? Who was least? Who was going to have a better reward and more honorable position in eternity? There was obviously an inner circle of followers in whom Jesus’ confided and Judas was definitely not one of the inner circle. How badly did this gnaw at Judas? Did the seeds of envy and jealousy help give rise to the fruit of betrayal?

Judas was in charge of the team’s finances. Pretty important position. It was also told that Judas used the position for his own personal gain. I find it interesting that Judas’ betrayal comes immediately after Mary anoints Jesus with an extravagantly expensive perfumed oil.  Had that oil been donated and sold, Judas would have stood to profit from the exchange. Was greed worming its way around his heart, as well? How much did that play a part in tipping the scales from follower to traitor?

Judas betrayal also came at the culmination of an intense amount of conflict. Jesus created a riot when he overturned the moneychangers’ tables at the beginning of the week. There had been an escalating tone to the debate and war of words between the religious leaders and Jesus. Besides, the vision of the disciples riding the gravy train to some glorious take-over and world domination as Jesus ascended a throne in Jerusalem and kicked the Romans out was quickly getting dashed to pieces. The proverbial handwriting was on the wall. A shrewd man could see that the religious leaders would need to kill Jesus to calm the storm he was whipping up against them and to preserve their hold on political power.Besides, Jesus had increasingly been talking about the end of the world and filling his teaching with talk of his death. He was sounding like a mad man, not a king. The future for Jesus’ followers was quickly looking bleak. The pragmatic choice was to throw your lot in with the religious leaders and make enough money to get a new start when the dust settled. In retrospect, for the person concerned with self preservation, it was a simple choice.

Envy, jealousy, greed, and self-centered pragmatism. Those are the core character qualities that I see leading Judas to his decision to betray Jesus. It’s easy to roll my eyes in contempt and shake my head in disbelief at the mention of Judas’ name. However, each and every one of the character qualities which led to his actions are very present in my own heart and life. If you’d like a list of examples, I can give you an earful over coffee. The truth is, I’m not that different than Judas. This is why I’m increasingly reticent slide my rear end onto any kind of seat of judgment.

There, but for the grace of God, go I.

Lord, have mercy on me.

Creative Commons photo courtesy of Flickr and feargal