And they were greatly distressed and began to say to him one after another, “Surely not I, Lord?”
The drama of Holy Week takes a step up in intensity today. As we enter Jesus' final days, today we remember the exchanges in the Upper Room, as Jesus shares his final meal with his disciples. Today is called Maundy Thursday, from the root word meaning "command" (or mandate). It's the day that we remember Christ giving his great command to selfless service, shortly after he humbles himself to wash his disciples' feet. Love one another.
But that's not an isolated moment. The entire evening balances on a knife-edge, with political and relational tensions high. It seems clear that something is about to go down, and Jesus has alluded to his own capture and death multiple times. And then as they're eating, Jesus drops a bombshell: One of you is going to be betray me.
What happens next is sitting in my mind. The disciples get really anxious. But then they go around the room, and each one says the same thing. "Surely not I, Lord?"
Now, it's difficult to read tone, but I'm imagining these questions aren't so self-assured as Peter's loud refusal to let Jesus was his feet a few minutes earlier ("You'll NEVER wash my feet, Lord!)
No, I'm hearing a creeping worry approaching in each one's question.
You definitely don't mean me, Lord.
Why would each disciple be so concerned? It is perhaps because each of them knew that it was indeed a distinct possibility? Is it because they knew that fear and doubt and self-preservation was already right at the edge of their consciousness, waiting to jump right in front of the commitment to love each other and trust Jesus? (picture for a bit of levity)
Some Christian traditions have used the cross to point a finger directly at people, hoping to change folks with the eternal power of guilt. While I don't believe that forceful guilt actually draws us to Jesus, I do relate deeply with the insecurity of the disciples. I know that I'm capable of turning my own way instead of toward courageous love and discipleship. I know that I am often complicit in systems of injustice. I know that if I was sitting there with Jesus, I'd want to assume it was that other guy he was talking about, but I'd have a sneaking suspicion that it might be me. If you never have that suspicion, you may want to do a little further reflection. What if your toxic trait is that you're sure it's always everyone else who has a toxic trait?
In the coming two days, we have the opportunity for this sort of honest admission to lead us to freedom. There is great power in "admitting." We admit that we have the temptation to run and hide too. We admit that we've done harm instead of embodying the fullness of love. We admit that we've moved toward self-preservation rather than faithfulness, and it sometimes feels like we've betrayed Jesus.
When we allow ourselves to admit that surely it might be I (I know, bad grammar), then we open ourselves up to the healing journey of Jesus. In fact, it's in the admitting that we move to where we need to do be for Jesus to do his work in us.
James Finley reflects on "the power of admitting" frailty in his course on Mystical Sobriety:
"The admitting then brings us to a place in which, if this is up to me, it is not looking good. As a matter of fact, if this is up to me, I think it’s despair. But the very fact that I’ve risked despair opens up a whole new possibility because maybe it’s not up to me. Maybe there’s another way."
One of the great tragedies of the gospel is that Judas never had the chance to see Jesus take his failure and despair to absorb and transform it. It would have been an incredible redemption story. I can't imagine how many lives he would have touched when he told of how Jesus had enough love and forgiveness even for him. He would have gone around in such joy and grace, committed to doing good work.
As we consider the meal, the towel, the cross and the silence leading up to Sunday, let's not be afraid to admit our own frailty. There is life, grace, and hope on the other side of our honest vulnerability.
Jesus, it might be me. So I ask you to take my fear, my weakness, and my sin, and remind me that your love is still larger.