Today in our Gospel reading we confront the betrayal and broken relationships that set up Jesus’ arrest and condemnation. We don’t know why Judas acted the way he did. What we do know is that he betrayed his friends — Jesus and the remaining eleven apostles — and received money for it, that he later, much too late, regretted bitterly what he had done, despaired of repentance, returned the blood money, and killed himself. In purely human terms it is a compelling story — the picture of the small band of men dedicated to a leader and a cause who are betrayed by one of their own is a mainstay of fiction and drama. It resonates with us because, in one way or another, we have been there — in our human brokenness we have been in the course of our lives betrayer and betrayed.
We will find Good News not in the story of Judas himself, but in the way that Jesus responds to betrayal. We see that response clearly both in today’s Gospel and in our first reading, the third Servant Song from Isaiah. The prophet came to see his own role not just as being a prophet but in becoming the Servant of God, serving both his own people and the nations by doing God’s will. And in ways that foreshadow the later life and death of Jesus, we learn through his own words and those of his followers how he suffered persecution and death because of his resolve to answer God’s call to ministry as God’s Servant.
In this lesson we hear how the Servant, taught by God, is not rebellious, nor does he turn back. Instead he accepts shame, insult, and mistreatment as part of his task as Servant. He says: “The Lord GOD helps me; therefore I have not been disgraced; therefore I have set my face like flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame; he who vindicates me is near. Who will contend with me? Let us stand up together. Who are my adversaries? Let them confront me. It is the Lord GOD who helps me; who will declare me guilty?” Confident in God and God’s help, the Servant can face pain and disgrace without flinching, indeed without betraying a reaction. It is an action of faith and courage that few could aspire to.
Jesus has modeled his ministry on the Servant; he and later his followers will use the Servant’s words and the Servant’s followers’ words to explain who he is and what kind of a Messiah he is. In today’s epistle, taken from the letter to the Hebrews, the author reminds us that Jesus “endured the cross, disregarding its shame”, surely drawing upon this Servant song. It is with those ancient words in our hearts that we must turn again to today’s Gospel. In it, John tells us about an event at the Last Supper.
Jesus knows that he is going to be betrayed and he knows who is going to do it — our reading begins with Jesus’ revelation of that fact to the disciples at supper. However he knows what Judas has decided, Jesus does know, and in a curiously intimate little conversation (for only Jesus and Judas know what Jesus is talking about) Jesus sends Judas off into the night to carry out the role Judas has chosen for himself. And then comes the really extraordinary thing. Jesus says to those that remain: “Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him.”
Sending Judas off essentially to ‘get it over with’ seems understandable — as we might want a painful and difficult surgery or treatment to just get started, so Jesus wants the now-inevitable betrayal and its consequences to begin to unwind. We recognise in this action the same spirit as the Servant, who accepts pain and disgrace when it is inevitable and relies upon the help and vindication of God. It is another prophetic sign for us as we walk this week. But here again Jesus speaks of glory — as we heard him also speak of glory in yesterday’s Gospel. Nothing appears to be further from glory than a Roman crucifixion. And yet the author of Hebrews also speaks of the joy that was set before Jesus as the reason he endured the cross.
What is this glory, this joy? Jesus reveals his oneness with the Father and the Father reveals his oneness with Jesus — this is the glory to which Jesus’ death is the gateway. Why? Because in the daily acts of obedience and faithfulness that brought him to that death Jesus revealed his Father, his Father’s love for the world and humankind, the life of love that Father and Son share with the Spirit. By revealing it and by showing us the way of obedience and faithfulness, Jesus invites us also to share in that divine life of love. So having set his feet inrevocably on the path to Calvary, “the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him.” Now the final three days can begin — everyone knows their role, everyone has made their choices. The saving work of Jesus is about to reach its conclusion and we are invited not just to watch, but to take part, to claim a share in the divine life that Jesus has opened to us. That is the good news in this gospel and in this and every Holy Week.