As Christians around the world remember Jesus’ last supper, we are printing a reflection by Selina Stone (who co-ordinates our Buxton Leadership Programme and our work with Pentecostal churches). It was delivered yesterday at the International HQ of the Salvation Army, as one of a series of Holy Week addresses on the “Meekness and Majesty” of Jesus. Selina’s theme was “Lord of Humanity, dwells in Eternity” – and she reflected on John 13.21-32
On reading the words ‘Lord of Eternity, Dwells in Humanity’ we can very easily be persuaded to engage in deep theological reflection. We could spend long moments studying biblical passages in hebrew or koine greek or delving into the writings of many forefathers and foremothers in the faith. Many have tried to understand how Jesus could be both fully God and fully man and few have settled on a clear explanation. Was Jesus mainly a spiritual force, or may just a good teacher, or maybe he switched between his two natures? In simpler terms, we could speculate about if Jesus knew in advance what his mother would make him for breakfast through some sort of divine knowledge, whether he was ever cheeky to his parents, or if he ever made another child cry…
Yet here, in John 13.21-32, we find a very concrete scenario that brings these questions to bare. Jesus sits here around a table with his disciples, sharing a meal. That itself, is an astounding thing; the eternal word become flesh, sitting around a table with those who are fully human, listening and engaging in conversation. No wonder the psalmist writes ‘what are we humans that you are mindful of us?’
And in this moment, if we imagine ourselves around this table too, we can look at Jesus and imagine what we would say if we were there. What questions would we ask, what would we want to know from him? It seems that maybe, seeing Jesus eat, sleep, cry and get angry, the disciples may have forgotten that he was more than just a man. Fully acquainted with the one dwelling in humanity, they could easily forget that he was indeed the Lord of eternity.
In our own lives we can also face a similar temptation. Faced with unanswered questions and prayers and deep longings for justice and salvation in the world; we can wonder, was Jesus more than just a really good man. Is there any power at all within him, is he indeed ‘Lord’ or simply ‘teacher’ or even ‘friend’?
Maybe for Judas the forgetfulness and disappointment were especially true. The doubt and uncertainty that all the disciples wrestled with, has particularly devastating effects on Judas. His betrayal of Jesus may indeed reflect the sense of betrayal he feels at having his hopes and expectations left unmet.
Jesus is clear about the fact that Judas is going to betray him – he responds as we all would as humans, by being ‘troubled in spirit’. Jesus openly declares ‘one of you will betray me’ exposing his internal pain before his disciples. He does not hide his anguish, he does not keep up pretence. He exemplifies to us the need for vulnerability in leadership.
And in this moment our hearts may break for Jesus the perfect one, who is not untouched by the pain of human existence and human relationship. His divinity does not allow him to escape the betrayal so common to our lives. The moment when a trusted person fails to love us, respect us or honour us is a painful one.
Yet Jesus’ response is not to defend himself, but to acknowledge and welcome the one who would betray him. He does not exclude Judas from the meal, or indeed from his friendship. Jesus chooses to actively love Judas through allowing him close, even risking betrayal to death.
For many of us, being fully aware of our fragility, we may well remove ourselves from the company of those who might betray us. Our instinct is self-preservation and it is a natural and what many would consider a wise thing to do. However, Jesus’ love of Judas challenges that natural response and suggests a different way is possible. To love requires proximity. By remaining close to Judas, Jesus allows him to be loved, despite the risk to his own person.
Jesus’ final words recognise that the glory of God and the glory of the Son are tied together. He does not need to defend his earthly life while the promise of eternal glory remains sure. While he may fear the Cross that lies ahead, he does not fear losing his life. He is certain that in the end his father and he too will be given glory.
For us, in our relationships, we can take courage from the faith of Jesus, that betrayal, pain and death are not the end. In our relationships in our communities with our families, friends and neighbours – new life is possible. For now, in Holy Week, we face the journey to the Cross, but can be comforted by the glory to come.