It isn’t me, is it?
The great story, well known yet little known, bursts upon us
in a deeply disturbing scene: friends at the table discovering that one of them is to be a traitor. We often wonder what it was that made Judas do it. Perhaps we should also ask what it was that held the others back. They, like Judas, had misunderstood so much. They still didn’t realize what it was Jesus had to do. There is a worried humility about their question which we would do well to imitate as we approach the narrative of Jesus’ last moments, such a horribly public scene of torture and death and yet such an intimate portrait of him and those closest to him. To read this story casually, glancing through and reminding ourselves of its main outline, is to trivialize and so to misread it, like hearing a great piece of music played at ten times the proper speed. Read it with the question in mind, ‘Lord, it isn’t me, is it?’ and see what answer you get.
Because it is me — and you, and all of us. We are all here somewhere. We have all been loyal and yet disloyal. We have all wanted to do the right thing and then run away when the go- ing got tough. We have all colluded with injustice, stayed silent when we should have spoken out, and then perhaps blurted out some give-away remark when we should have shut up. And we have all stood by scenes of sorrow and tragedy, not knowing what to say or do but feeling that somehow, if only, we could or should have prevented it.
And, maybe, some or even many of us have, in time past, looked at Jesus and decided he was mad, crazy, a deluded fanatic. ‘You who would destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself! If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross!’ Many have hurled insults at Jesus; the worst, perhaps, is to patronize him by saying what a fine moral teacher he was, as though he was simply trying to be another Socrates and unfortunately got mixed up in local Jewish politics and religion. ‘Lord, is it me?’ If it is, or has been, then stay with that memory for a bit. Find yourself in the story, wherever you are.
Only then, perhaps, can we ask the question in a different way. Because from the earliest days of the church’s life the followers of Jesus told this story for another reason. The story of Jesus became their story, in the sense that they believed they had died with Jesus; they had suffered with him, been crucified with him, been buried with him. Somehow — and this mystery lies at the very heart of authentic Christian experience — they believed, and knew it to be true because of the utter difference it made to life, that through baptism and faith they were living in Jesus, and he was living in them. ‘Lord — is it me? Is it me, facing misunderstanding and betrayal? Is it me, praying in agony, being arrested, tried and unjustly condemned, abandoned by my friends, mocked, beaten up, stripped and hung up to die in shame?’ As we read this story in faith, we should hear the answer, life-transforming as it is: ‘Yes, it is you. This is who you now are. You are not the person you once were. You are the person to whom all this has happened. This is how your life is now to be shaped and directed. You are in me, and I am in you. You have died; your life is hidden, with me, in the life of God himself.’
All this, of course, is straight out of St Paul (another much misunderstood man). When he speaks of being ‘in Christ’, this is basically what he means. Jesus, the Messiah, died on the cross; you are ‘in him’, part of his family; therefore you died with him, were nailed to the cross with him, were buried with him. This is who you now are.
Yes, there is more. Easter and all that follows gives a further dimension. But take one thing at a time. It is through Jesus’ crucifixion, Matthew insists, that he becomes what he was born to be: the saviour (1.21). And this is how he does it: by extending his arms on the cross, enfolding us in that God-with-us embrace, and bringing us with him through death into a whole new life.
Thank you, loving Lord. Thank you.