Summary: This sermon examines the betrayal of Jesus in Matthew 26 and proposes that there are different ways to betray Jesus. Perhaps the more incipient danger is the indifference of the eleven. The sermon also portrays the manner in which God handles human failur
SURELY, NOT I!
I was marooned in a seemingly forsaken place, or so it felt. I did not know anyone. The place was isolated from life. The nearest village was miles away and I had to walk several kilometres to the nearest bus pickup point. There was no running water or electricity. The amenities of life I had so taken for granted were noticeably absent. Most traumatically, I was far away from home. I had chosen to come to this place to teach and the other teachers and students were nice enough. But there was no one to really talk to. I had never felt so lonely!
I began to look forward to the letters from family and friends. Those were moments of pure ecstasy and release. For a short time each week I could pretend that I was far away among people I really knew and in the hustle and bustle of the city life I knew so well. Those letters were my lifeline.
But all that changed one day. I looked at the envelope. The return address told me that it was from someone I really cared about. With great anticipation I ripped open the envelope and began devouring the contents of the letter. The mood and words in the letter began to depress me. And then a line jumped out at me and (if words could) grabbed me. It said: “You are a traitor!”
Me a traitor? How can this be? Why would someone I love so much say such a horrible thing to me? Impossible! Surely, not I!
I can now fully resonate with the disciples as, quite out of the blue, Jesus blurted out these words: “I tell you, the truth, one of you will betray me!” (vs 21)
In these words of Jesus, every disciple discovered that he was a potential traitor. In a generalising way that we would find abhorrent, Jesus had turned all of them into possible traitors. I can imagine the sense of shock and disbelief that hit the disciples. Their faces turned ashen grey. Their demeanour became sullen and downcast. Their joy at celebrating the beloved Passover totally deflated. I must confess that Jesus’ timing was really terrible. Even if what he said was true, could he not have waited till at least after the supper was over? Why ruin their robust appetite so dramatically? Yet there it was, “One of you will betray me!”
When Jesus uttered these words, the disciples’ world turned upside down. Now they began to think of themselves in an unpleasant new way. Every disciple suddenly thought of himself as a potential traitor. And each one took turn to vehemently disavow such a possibility. “Surely not I, Lord?” (vs 22) Even Judas Iscariot, the true traitor, made the same claim. “Surely not I, Lord?” (vs 25) Filled with a sudden rush of conflicting emotions, the embattled disciples could not be certain of their own motives. Perhaps some high speed introspection occurred. For, it must be recognised, how well do we really know ourselves? Is it possible that we might actually do such a dastardly act, given the right circumstances? I am certain that the disciples sensed this possibility, a feeling made all the more acute by their disavowal. Perhaps also, at the back of their minds was the suspicion that someone in the group could actually do this. Afterall, how well did they really know each other? How well do we ever really know those around us or even those we live with? Given the right set of circumstances, could somebody we love actually betray us?
Perhaps open betrayal was not the main failure of the disciples. Maybe Jesus, using such hyperbolic language, was giving them warning of a more incipient danger. While the specificity of only one traitor is made known, the disciples were warned that they could all potentially fail Jesus. He told them: “This very night you will all fall away on account of me.” (vs 31) Certainly it only takes one disciple to openly betray Jesus, but, are there other ways of letting Jesus down? As the story would pan out, when the mob came to arrest Jesus that night the disciples, without exception, fled. Jesus did not label all of them traitors, but he certainly warned that they were all potential failures. In the final analysis, did the eleven fail Jesus any less than Judas did?
The disciples’ position in this tragic episode was further compounded by their insistent claim of undying love for Jesus. First it was Peter who said: “Even if all fall away on account of you, I never will.” (vs 33). Peter went even further in his vain attempt to profess this undying love for Jesus. “”Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you!” (vs 35). All the other disciples joined in this disharmonic refrain. All were equally anxious to prove that they could and would never let Jesus down (vs 35). Yet the events that transpired that night would reveal the disciples’ “betrayal.”