Betrayal, Denial and Desertion

It is Wednesday in Holy Week. We hear about the betrayal of Judas. The message is disturbing to us. How could Judas betray Jesus? But there is more than just betrayal here. Jesus is also ‘deeply distressed’ because another close friend, Peter, is primed to deny he even knows him. The question we find ourselves asking is “How can a friend betray a friend?”  That is most likely why this part of the Passion is so hard for us. It hurts us to read of our Lord’s distress because we know what that distress feels like.

Which one of us has not felt betrayed by a friend?  

Today we hear Psalm 70.

Hurry, God, to deliver me;
   hurry, LORD, to help me!
Let those who seek my life
be ashamed and humiliated!
   Let them fall back and be disgraced—
      those people who delight
      in my downfall!
Let those who say, “Aha! Aha!”
   stop because of their shameful behaviour.
But let all who seek you
rejoice and be glad in you,
   and let those who love your saving help say again and again:
      “God is great!”
But me? I’m poor and needy.
   Hurry to me, God!
You are my helper and my deliverer.
   Oh, LORD, don’t delay!

 “Let those who seek my life be ashamed and humiliated! Let them fall back and be disgraced – those people who delight in my downfall.” Have you ever been there? I have! I have walked the hallways of feeling abandoned by someone. I know how it feels for others to wish for my downfall. In those times the words of Psalm 70 were a great comfort for me. I wonder in the midst of Holy Week, when Jesus prayed did he use the words of this great Psalm. Perhaps knowing that his friends were about to abandon him he recited Psalm 70 as a way of calling to God to deal with his betrayers, deniers, and deserters.

Then again, when I read all these scriptures today I come to see this from another angle as well. Perhaps the more difficult question to ask on a Holy Week pilgrimage is “which one of us can say that we have never betrayed, denied or deserted a friend?” Now that is a very tough Lenten sort of question. This begins to strike at the heart of the power of the Passion Narrative. That is to say, we participate in the Passion Story and we do so regularly. The power of this story is found in the very human way that the characters respond to the situation presented to them. We feel smug enough at times to judge Judas or Peter, yet in our more honest moments we must acknowledge that we too have betrayed, denied, and deserted Jesus.

It is at those times that Psalm 70 should also be a soothing Word for us. We can call out “I am poor and needy. Hurry to me. God! You are my helper and my deliverer. Oh, LORD, don’t delay!” We take solace in the fact that Jesus does not abandon Peter, or Judas or any of the others for that matter. Even though they hurt him with their very human behaviour, they are still welcomed at the table and feed by the Word of life.

Today we call to God to rescue us from the pain of being betrayed, denied or deserted. Today we ask forgiveness for when we have betrayed, denied, or deserted. Today we give thanks that Jesus embraced the fullness of his humanity, pain and all. Today we pray for grace to embrace our humanity, pain and all.