(Revised Common Lectionary readings can be found here.)
The Gospel reading is John 13: 21 – 32.
After saying this Jesus was troubled in spirit, and declared, “Very truly, I tell you, one of you will betray me.” The disciples looked at one another, uncertain of whom he was speaking.
One of his disciples–the one whom Jesus loved–was reclining next to him; Simon Peter therefore motioned to him to ask Jesus of whom he was speaking. So while reclining next to Jesus, he asked him, “Lord, who is it?”
Jesus answered, “It is the one to whom I give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish.” So when he had dipped the piece of bread, he gave it to Judas son of Simon Iscariot. After he received the piece of bread, Satan entered into him. Jesus said to him, “Do quickly what you are going to do.” Now no one at the table knew why he said this to him. Some thought that, because Judas had the common purse, Jesus was telling him, “Buy what we need for the festival”; or, that he should give something to the poor. So, after receiving the piece of bread, he immediately went out. And it was night.
When he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once.
it’s holy week.
This is Holy Week, capital H, capital W. It’s the week where we slowly trace the last bit of Jesus’ journey to the cross. We shouted “Hosanna” on Sunday, and if you are like me, you may have wrestled with the bit about the donkey the disciples stole, or perhaps you are tending conflicted feelings about the foreboding imminence of Good Friday and the expectation of an Easter Sunday celebration. Regardless of our level of discomfort with the events that culminated with the torture and death of Jesus, and the day of mourning before the resurrection, it’s important to sit with the tension of the following statement: The events of the Passion Week were necessary and intentional.
The Passion of Christ was not a giant cosmic whoops, or a story that took a wrong turn somewhere, or a random mistake. The Creator of the Universe would not accidentally become a created being. Jesus’ eyes were wide open and he was fully aware of how this whole thing was gonna go before he traded in his place on the mercy seat for the discomfort of the womb of a Palestinian Jewish girl. Jesus knew what it would mean for him to become incarnate: fully God and fully human.
The Passion of Christ was not a giant cosmic whoops.
The Lectionary offers us a Gospel lesson today that brings us in near the end of the communal Passover meal. In other Gospels, the authors tell of the way Jesus blessed the bread and broke it, and shared it with his friends. There is bread and wine in John’s account, but instead of focusing on the meal part of the Last Supper, John tells us that Jesus washed his disciples’ feet. Most of the chapter our reading is from is about the foot washing, and the resulting conversation. OF COURSE Peter is completely extra and simultaneously refuses to be washed by Jesus and begs Jesus to wash him from head to toe.
We’ve heard this story before, and we know by now what happens after the meal. Judas betrays Jesus to the chief priests and the Pharisees, and he is arrested by the Roman soldiers, tortured and murdered. And this was the plan the entire time. This sequence of events is exactly what Jesus signed up for — does it hurt your brain? IT HURTS MY BRAIN.
See the church has done a bad, bad thing when it talks about the Passion of Christ. We have been trained that Jesus’ pain and death is our fault, that we are responsible for killing the son of God. It would be cruel, emotional extortion and manipulation if I was to tell you that you are so completely horrible that someone needed to die to make up for all of your garbage behaviour. This is so often the message of the Church: guilt, shame, wretchedness. It hurts my heart. Does it hurt your heart, too?
The Church inflicts trauma on her people when she blames us for killing Christ. This is a wholly unnecessary, theologically troubling, cruel and unusual treatment of beloved community.
There is nothing in any story of Jesus that is cruel. There is nothing manipulative about Jesus. There is only love. Now, yes, sometimes that love comes Jeopardy! style, in the form of a question, but time and time again Jesus commands us to love. Jesus says, “Love one another as I have loved you,” at least once a chapter between John 13-16. He tells us the greatest commandment is to love God with all our hearts and minds and spirits, and that loving our neighbor is like loving God. Jesus loved with intention and forethought. Jesus took on a human existence with intention and forethought and love. For him, healing was love. Feeding the hungry is love. Standing with the disenfranchised is love. Sharing a meal with sex workers is love. Protecting the vulnerable is love. Teaching people to read is love. Welcoming refugees and asylum seekers is love.
Jesus chose to live this human existence because being in relationship with people you love matters.
Jesus was intentionally incarnate. He had all the information when he chose to become the God-Man and he knew what it meant to go out into the far country and exist with and for the lost. Jesus made a conscious choice to be our Immanuel, our God With Us. It wasn’t like signing up for early church history class with Dr Tyson and reading the syllabus on the first day and discovering that there’s a handwritten, multiple essay final exam, and knowing there is absolutely no way to avoid that exam. Jesus chose to live this human existence because being in relationship with people you love matters. Friends, we are the people Jesus loves. Every person to draw breath on this earth, every heart that has ever beat belongs to a person Jesus loves.
invitation to an embodied faith
What would happen if we believed that Jesus was intentionally incarnate? What would our lives look like? What kind of faith would that be? The impact of the life of Jesus had political, economic, and social affect. The power of the Gospel of Christ is in the invitation to live and love like Jesus, and to practice faith that is political, economic, and social.
The power of the Gospel of Christ is in the invitation to live and love like Jesus, and to practice faith that is political, economic, and social.
It’s in the invitation to embody a political faith. Political faith is showing up with food, water, and a place to stay when ICE dumps migrant people around the corner from the bus station. Political faith rejects white supremacy and all of the ways it pollutes society. Political faith rejects the evangelical insistence for a theocracy.
It’s in the invitation to invest economically. Yes, it’s very sad that Notre Dame was on fire. But the Catholic Church has the capital to make it new again (make it old again?). How about we use our economic power to rebuild those churches in Louisiana that were burned to the ground by a racist arsonist? How about we put our money where our mouths are and get Flint some water already. How about maybe we don’t take that voluntourism trip that’s rooted in colonialism and white saviourism, and only temporarily benefits the people on the trip and instead invest in indigenous communities by giving them the money and not taking away the power to make their own decisions for their own communities. How about that?
And finally, it’s in the invitation to be socially faithful. Honestly, I think this one is more of a command due to the number of times Jesus tells us to love our neighbors, but you’re free to think about it in language that’s meaningful to you. It’s the invitation to not worry about which bathrooms people use. It’s the invitation to notice that your neighbor’s driveway hasn’t been shoveled in days. It’s the invitation for white folks to pull over and bear witness to interactions between people of colour and the police. It’s the invitation to be intentional about creating space that all members of the community can access equally.
We need to have our eyes wide open when we accept the invitation to join Jesus on this path to the cross. Because, dear ones, people still suffer for this Gospel. Suffering is part of being human. Here is how the Message expresses the verses from Hebrews:
Do you see what this means—all these pioneers who blazed the way, all these veterans cheering us on? It means we’d better get on with it. Strip down, start running—and never quit! Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we’re in. Study how he did it. Because he never lost sight of where he was headed—that exhilarating finish in and with God—he could put up with anything along the way: Cross, shame, whatever. And now he’s there, in the place of honor, right alongside God. When you find yourselves flagging in your faith, go over that story again, item by item, that long litany of hostility he plowed through. That will shoot adrenaline into your souls!
live the gospel into existence
Friends, the only way to bring the Gospel of Christ to the world is to live it intentionally into existence, and the only way to live it intentionally is to keep your eyes wide open and focused on Jesus. This means we need to see the hungry, the lonely, the people who are othered. To understand the life of Jesus we need to meet the gaze of the hurt, the oppressed, those who are abused, and the ones who suffer from violence. If we are going to make any sort of worthwhile contribution to this broken universe, we must walk the path of the cross for each other in love, the way Jesus walked it for us.
And now, community of my heart, may the Lord torment you. May the Lord keep before you the faces of the hungry, the lonely, the rejected and the despised. May the Lord afflict you with pain for the hurt, the wounded, the oppressed, the abused, the victims of violence. May God grace you with agony, a burning thirst for justice and righteousness. May the Lord give you courage and strength and compassion to make ours a better world, to make your communities a better community, to make your church a better church. And may you do your best to make it so, and after you have done your best, may the Lord grant you peace.