Thirty-Fifth Day of Lent

Luke 22:1-6
22 Now the Festival of Unleavened Bread, called the Passover, was approaching, 2 and the chief priests and the teachers of the law were looking for some way to get rid of Jesus, for they were afraid of the people. 3 Then Satan entered Judas, called Iscariot, one of the Twelve. 4 And Judas went to the chief priests and the officers of the temple guard and discussed with them how he might betray Jesus. 5 They were delighted and agreed to give him money. 6 He consented, and watched for an opportunity to hand Jesus over to them when no crowd was present.

There’s something deeply sacrilegious at the beginning of this passage.

At a time when one of the great Feasts of Jewish tradition was approaching the religious leaders of the community were not preparing for the feast, but for murder. And the chief motivation for this activity was that they were afraid of the crowd. Despite providing religious leadership for the people they were frightened of the opinion of the crowd.

The relationship between leaders and the crowd is always a complex one. We see it in Parliament in all the difficulty of Brexit. According to our Parliamentary system MPs are not our delegates, they are our representatives, and they are required to go to Parliament and vote according to their conscience as opposed to voting according to the wishes of their electorate. This requires a special kind of leadership ability, and often it requires people who are not afraid of the crowd.

During the Passover upwards of 100,000 people would pack into Jerusalem and many, many of them would be fascinated to see and hear this maverick preacher Jesus. How much they believed what he was saying is open to question but nobody could deny he was quite a spectacle. But he was a threat to the powers of the day and they were desperate for a way to get rid of him and so I’m sure that the crowds didn’t know that they were plotting. To preserve their status and their power though, they were willing to contemplate the unthinkable.

Did Judas see an opportunity in the crowds to advance his political ideology of rebellion against Rome? Get rid of Jesus and force an uprising? Once again the crowd was a central feature of the plotting that was going on but they were probably unaware.

And at the centre of the whole drama was the one man Jesus. He seems particularly isolated at this stage. He’s safe in the city during the day when he’s surrounded by the crowds who are whipped up to a religious frenzy anyway at this time. But every night he has to sneak out of the city when the crowds melt away, because he knows his life is in danger.

The leadership sees this one man as a threat to their power. The revolutionary sees him as the spark to ignite a revolution. Either way Jesus has been dehumanised by both parties and his death is a price worth paying to uphold complementary ideologies.

And so a plot is hatched in secret, to do something in secret when there are no crowds around.

Jesus is threat or spark, whose death will further the aspirations of others, and so he can be treated as a nothing.

Everybody is using everybody else in the story. The leaders are using Judas, Judas is using the leaders and everyone is keeping the crowd in the dark but preparing to use them for their own ends. Everybody is using everybody in the story….except for Jesus.

He is the centre of attention for everybody, but he has no say in what is happening.

This is such a toxic form of violence. People are reduced to tools or instruments or weapons without their consent. People are to be used or abused to advance my cause or to further my ambition. This kind of thing happens all around us in all sorts of ways. It’s what the so-called corporate ladder was invented for—I climb at the expense of colleagues. We do it every time we tell a lie or a half truth to protect ourselves at the cost of damaging someone else.

It also happens every time we put our institutions, like the church, above the needs of people. So when we lie or dissemble to protect the institution and someone else suffers, we are following in a long, dishonourable line of plotters who, when they should be getting ready for worship, are committing murder.

Here are all the bible verses which reference Judas Iscariot, Matthew 10:4, 13:55, 26:14, 16, 25, 47-49, 27:1-5; Mark 3:19, 6:3, 14:10, 43-45; Luke 6:16, 22:1-4, 47-48; John 6:71, 12:4, 13:2, 13:26-30; 14:22, 18:2-6; Acts 1:16-18, 25. Why not take time to read all of them and reflect on his life and actions.

When you read and reflect think about how the deeper aspects of his life and motivation might find some parallels in your own. Are there any ways in which you feel compassion for Judas?

So here I stand again Lord,
In the opening days of Holy Week,
Facing into the heart of faith.
And what I see is deception
And violence.

I see it in the religious leaders
I see it in Judas

And I am conscious of it in myself.

Thank you that even now
There is forgiveness.

Help me to walk in newness of life
Help me to walk in peace
Help me to walk in truth
This Holy Week
And forever more


Thirty-Fourth Day of Lent

Luke 20:20-26 
20 Keeping a close watch on him, they sent spies, who pretended to be sincere. They hoped to catch Jesus in something he said, so that they might hand him over to the power and authority of the governor. 21 So the spies questioned him: ‘Teacher, we know that you speak and teach what is right, and that you do not show partiality but teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. 22 Is it right for us to pay taxes to Caesar or not?’

23 He saw through their duplicity and said to them, 24 ‘Show me a denarius. Whose image and inscription are on it?’

‘Caesar’s,’ they replied.

25 He said to them, ‘Then give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.’

26 They were unable to trap him in what he had said there in public. And astonished by his answer, they became silent.

In all my years reading these Gospel stories I have never noticed the last clause of the first sentence about the spies “who pretended to be sincere,” (Luke 20:20). It sheds a whole new light on what follows. When they say “we know that you speak and teach what is right” and “teach the way of God,” (Luke 20:21) did they really know it, or did they lie deliberately?

And then Jesus, who “saw through their duplicity,” (Luke 20:23), I wonder why he didn’t blow the lid off the whole thing and reveal the deceit. And I wonder about what it was like being civil to these people who fawned over him, ingratiating themselves into the inner circle in order to destroy him.

Some of us will know what that is like. What it is like to be in the company of those who fake sincerity, but who seek our downfall in small or large ways. We know the familiar knot in the chest, how the continual false civility of ordinary exchanges sticks in our throat because we know things have to be said for public consumption, but we also know the disloyalty. I feel for Jesus here, and I’m angry at those who could behave like this.

I’m writing this on 29 March. So much has happened in the days since then that I suspect you may have forgotten that this was the original Brexit Day, trumpeted by our Prime Minister (or maybe ex-PM by now) as an immoveable date, until she moved it. And I’m writing for the 13 April which is set to be the day after the extended Brexit date (or maybe it’s not). Who knows?

It all reminds me of the corrosiveness of lies and deceit and how it can blind us to the real issues of our lives, our communities or our nations. How easy it is to speak honeyed words designed to gull people into a false sense of hope or security. How easy it is to hide the truth in a blizzard of words and high flown rhetoric when what we really speak are empty, flaccid, meaningless phrases.

Whether it is Project Fear or “Take Back Control,” we have been lied to, often deliberately so, by politicians, media outlets and those with power and influence. They have pretended to care, but were frequently plotting their own advancement in position or wealth.

How Jesus kept his wits about him I don’t know.

How desperately we need penetrating, wise and insightful words to silence those who are deceitful (Luke 20:26).

How desperately we all need friends and family who will speak the truth consistently to us , and not use us for their own advancement.

How important it is that we ourselves are the kind of people who enter relationships with kindness and generosity, without any ulterior motive or false purposes.

Thankfully Jesus also had disciples of courage and commitment who loved him and stayed loyal. In the pressure cooker of his final days, it tended to be the women. But more of that next week.

I can marvel at your cleverness here Lord Jesus,
Your ability with words in the cut and thrust
Of politics and conflict.
And your seemingly endless patience
With those false friends who faked sincerity.

But mostly I’m angry at the people who lied.
Or maybe I’m angry at the people who have lied to me
And secretly I’m angry at the lies I have told.

I am sorry that after all these years of following you
I am still capable of duplicity
And false motives.

Strengthen me to be loyal and true.
Strengthen me to be a valued friend.
Give me courage to wear one face
And not two.