Hosanna to the Son of David; Passion Sunday
Passion Sunday: April 9th, 2017
Matthew 26:14-30:66New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
Judas Agrees to Betray Jesus
14 Then one of the twelve, who was called Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests 15 and said, “What will you give me if I betray him to you?” They paid him thirty pieces of silver. 16 And from that moment he began to look for an opportunity to betray him.
17 On the first day of Unleavened Bread the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Where do you want us to make the preparations for you to eat the Passover?” 18 He said, “Go into the city to a certain man, and say to him, ‘The Teacher says, My time is near; I will keep the Passover at your house with my disciples.’” 19 So the disciples did as Jesus had directed them, and they prepared the Passover meal.
20 When it was evening, he took his place with the twelve;[a] 21 and while they were eating, he said, “Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me.” 22 And they became greatly distressed and began to say to him one after another, “Surely not I, Lord?” 23 He answered, “The one who has dipped his hand into the bowl with me will betray me. 24 The Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that one by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that one not to have been born.” 25 Judas, who betrayed him, said, “Surely not I, Rabbi?” He replied, “You have said so.”
26 While they were eating, Jesus took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is like my body.” 27 Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you; 28 for this is like my blood of the[b] covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. 29 I tell you, I will never again drink of this fruit of the vine again until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.”
30 When they had sung the hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.
Jesus knew he was being conspired against. Judas may have thought he had got away with something. But Jesus knew. Have we ever felt betrayed by someone we imagined was a friend? Have we ever felt dismay over such a situation? We can only imagine how Jesus must have felt having turned away from his mother and family. All he had at that time was his friends and his God. Have we ever felt that a situation has gotten away from us? That it was somehow now out of our hands?
Have you ever noticed how difficult it is to imagine a future all that different from the past? We all somehow get stuck in patterns of behavior and eventually come to believe that our past performance isn’t simply a predictor of our future behavior but rather it’s a guarantee. And so the older we get, the less open the future seems and more ominous the past looms in our lives.
The key to all of this, recent psychological research tells us, is story. Because the past isn’t simply the past, it’s the interpreted past. The past, in short, is the story we’ve told ourselves about the past. Which is why two siblings can have the same alcoholic parent and yet interpret that fact – and their similar pasts – quite differently and thereby walk into distinct futures.
Which is why what we do matters. As each and every week we are invited into a story that is not about all that went wrong this past week… like Jesus must have felt, but about what might go right in the week to come.
It’s a story of hope. It isn’t about what we lack, but instead it’s about all that we’ve been given. And it’s not a story that exposes our problems or shortcomings but instead lifts up our gifts and blessings. It’s God’s story that tells us again and again that we are loved, that we are precious, that we have infinite value and worth in God’s eyes…every single one of us!
And that story reaches its dramatic climax this week and in the coming days… as we follow Matthew’s account of Jesus’ crucifixion and the betrayal of Judas…a friend and colleague.
All of which may shape how we read this story. We are all familiar with the story of “The Sunday of the Passion.” Let us instead consider a different story, a route that begins in the heights of the crowds’ adoration of Jesus during his triumphal entry and descends to the depths of his crucifixion.
The key is to draw us into this story so that we might imagine that it is our story. We have all felt a sense of betrayal at some time or other.
What we might do on this day is to help each of us enter this story, inviting each of us to identify with a particular character… Jesus, Judas, or even Peter, who also betrayed him… or a bystander in the crowd… and ask ourselves to reflect on our emotions during the hearing of the story.
We should hear that this story as “our” story. Jesus suffered, and we should know that when we are suffering (and we all will do a certain amount of suffering in this life) we know God understands and cares for us. God never leaves us completely alone. Jesus felt utterly alone by the end of the story but he really wasn’t. And when we feel completely alone we know we really aren’t and that God understands our pain and is always there with us…suffering along with us…supporting us in our grief. Jesus also cried out in despair.. so when we become convinced the whole world has conspired against us and feel ready to give up, we should know that God is still there and understands and holds onto us. Jesus died and because of that we know God understands death and the fear of death and reminds us that death does not have the last word.
All that we see and hear in this story and all that we read and sing today, all of this is for us. And so a fourth century theologian, speaking of the climax reached in the crucifixion, said that Jesus in his humanity was like us…a human being… that had to deal with betrayal and death and the feeling of being deserted and alone and that that gives us hope that we too may see the path for us to become more fully human….to face life’s challenges with courage and hope. Jesus showed us the way to do that.
Two thousand years after that crucifixion event – indeed, on this very Sunday as we proclaim the message in our congregation – this story continues, the story of God’s decision to not hold back and watch to see what we might do on our own but instead to get involved, to take matters into the divine hands, to join God’s own self to love us fully and completely so that we might live life in hope and live fully again! – in hope and courage.
That’s the story we tell this week, the story of this week’s dramatic reading; the story of God’s passionate and relentless quest to redeem each and every one of us in love. And if our story can introduce this story and invite others to see it as their own and that they may look ahead to an open future of freedom and possibility, it is enough. Really even more than enough!
The Sunday before Easter can be celebrated in two ways: as Palm Sunday, when Jesus entered Jerusalem, or as Passion Sunday, focusing on his betrayal and crucifixion. Today’s scripture is intended for Passion Sunday. In the first half, Matthew focused on the exchange between Peter and Jesus on the night of his betrayal. The second half focuses on the efforts of Jesus’ opponents to shame, discredit, and kill him.
At the meal, Judas asks if Jesus knows about the plot against him. Jesus does, but it appears the disciples do not. Jesus calmly continues with the meal, a ritual time of remembering salvation from Egypt and God’s deliverance from enemies. Each of those images enriches the meaning of Jesus’ symbolic acts at the close of the Passover feast.
Peter’s relationship with Jesus is the central theme in the betrayal events. During the feast, Peter tells Jesus he will not desert him. In response, Jesus predicts his denial, and Peter fervently disagrees (Matthew 26:33–35). At Gethsemane later, Jesus asked Peter to support him in prayer. When he found the disciples sleeping, Jesus expressed his disappointment directly to Peter. After the ultimate betrayal, Peter followed Jesus to the house of the Sanhedren. Even though the law required any such actions to be taken in daylight they convicted him before the cock announced dawn. Peter’s denial, fulfilling Jesus’ prediction, closed the chapter.
Jesus’ story, like some of ours, seems to end in betrayal and denial…but it actually ends in courage and hope. This will be evident in next week’s story. Our stories also can end in courage and hope. If we choose to realize that God loves us and will always be right there with us through all of life’s challenges….just as God was with Jesus.