I woke up this morning with this question on my mind: which was worse, Judas' betrayal of Jesus or Peter's denial of Jesus? Or did both have the same affect on Jesus? This is a question worth pursuing on this Thursday of Mysteries (Maundy Thursday, Holy Thursday or whatever you are comfortable with calling it). But at first N.T. Wright points us in a slightly different direction. Actually, he has two reflections for us on this day when we remember Jesus' last supper with the disciples and, ultimately, his betrayal.
In the morning reflection Wright points us to Matthew 23.1-12.*
Our author suggests this passage speaks of two key ingredients to Holy Week: integrity and humility.
On integrity: "There is simply no place in the ministry of God's church before the watching world for people who want to play God's game one day and the world's game the next. It is our life, as well as our teaching, which must say to the increasingly pagan world all around what Jesus said to James and John: the pagan world runs things one way, but you must do it the other way."
On humility: "That is the challenge to the pagan world: the irrepressible news that there is a God who calls the world to account, and that this God is revealed fully and finally in the Servant, in the Jesus who was obedient to the death of the cross."
Integrity and humility. These are deep challenges for me and for us. Wright finishes: "The reason we must always be testing our patterns and habits of thought and action...is not so we can feel smug and humbler-than-thou, but because we are charged with the urgent task of calling the world to account before the Servant King, of reminding the world that there is a God and that his power is made perfect in weakness, of saying to the rulers of this age that the Lord of earth as well as heaven is the Jesus whom we follow and serve."
*On a personal note, this passage, and particularly verses 8-12 in The Message translation, happens to be one of the most significant texts in my life. It serves as an essential reminder to me of what to seek in those who lead me, particularly as pastors and teachers. And to all of us who claim to lead or teach in the church this tells us how we are to act, and what the consequences are if we choose to think of ourselves as anything other than low servants of one Head, the Lord Jesus Christ. Wright says this: "We should, perhaps, on a regular basis - and if Maundy Thursday isn't a good day for spring cleaning, when is? - read Matthew 23 carefully and prayerfully and ponder our current practices and styles."
The theme in this meditation is on the vulnerability of love, and Wright focuses on the meal interpreted by the foot washing. "It is one of the most important features of the whole story of Holy Week that, when Jesus wanted to give his followers the most accurate understanding possible of what he was about to do, he didn't give them a theory, he gave them an action: a meal, a Passover meal, a meal which was itself further interpreted by the foot washing."
I connected with these simple, yet profound descriptions and images.
"First, a meal. A moment of friendship, of family. Love at table."
"Second, a Passover meal. The moment of liberation: the lamb, the unleavened bread, judgment on Egypt, the crossing of the Red Sea...The scriptures and the power of God: the ancient stories construct the world within which it makes not just sense but explosive sense to think of Jesus' crucifixion as the still point of the turning world, the moment when heaven and earth are drawn together as their Lord hangs between them, the day when the Red Sea of sin and death was defeated by God's mighty power so that all the Lord's people could pass through."
"Third, a meal interpreted further through the foot washing...It is an intimate, precious, private moment. And it says, as clearly as anything ever could: I am doing this for you - yes, you, not just the person sitting next to you. And if you let me wash you, I can clean and rinse and refresh every part of you, the sad parts, the lonely parts, the messy and muddled parts, the parts you wish with all your heart could be healed. They can be. Taste my bread, drink my wine, and let me wash you. That's what my coming death is all about."
"That's the vulnerability of love, it's openness to betrayal."
And so, in a way, Wright does address the question I woke up with this morning.