Wednesday, August 02, 2017

Fresh Look at Matthew: Matthew 26:17-30

Familiarity breeds not  justcontempt but a glazing over, a not seeing what’s there.  This is true of relationships and texts, such as Scripture.  Since we hear this passage so much during Lord’s Supper services, we think we know it. Da Vinci’s painting looms before us (wrong as it is; it is more an exercise in Renaissance mathematics and symmetry than a portrayal of the human messiness of this story). 

It is messy because they are eating on the floor in Middle Eastern style, totally non-Western; there was a foot washing before this, according to John; it’s a long meal with many servings and courses and rituals; and it is relationally messy, because Jesus is being brutally honest with them that they will not stand up to the pressure when he is arrested and will be scattered.

It is also messy (complicated, I should say) because wars have been fought over what he means by the words in 26-28, which my group takes as metaphorical and others have taken as mystical. (I do not lean toward mysticism by nature, so it doesn’t fit my brain that he would mean it literally, nor would I think the disciples would, of course.) 

Hints in Scripture tell us the disciples had little sympathy for Judas in his betrayal, and maybe were suspicious of him ahead of time (he held the money bag, so did they figure out he was pilfering?); no one follows him out of friendship to see what is the matter.  Jesus says Judas will betray him; he leaves according to another account. He does his dirty work and then regrets it.  Maybe he didn’t realize they would crucify him and blood would be on his hands, so the story becomes a perfect example of unintended consequences.  As RG Lee used to say, sin takes you further than you want to go.  Maybe Judas thought the high priests et al would just get Jesus to stop his extremism; maybe I am just reading into it and Judas knew full well that they wanted to execute Jesus., it makes sense for us not to psychologize or find an out for Judas but to, like the disciples, have little sympathy for him.  He is a traitor, an intentional one, for the worst reason, money.  No need to see more, really. 

Now, to the positives.  The Lord’s Supper as we practice it should be a comfort as well as a warning.  We are not to memorialize this solemn occasion with anything but repentance and intentionality, with looking forward to “drinking it in my Father’s kingdom” as we show forth his death until he comes.” It is a comfort because Jesus is not a victim in this story of his betrayal and execution; everything is going forward as it should.  Hence, we are not victims either.

At the same time, we are faced again with human choice within (not vs.) God’s sovereignty.  “Woe to the man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed.”  We struggle with this:  Is Judas just a puppet, the one who has to betray Jesus, or was it his full choice?  It is one of those mighty paradoxes.  Unless we see our lives and actions as intentional, we do not appreciate sin’s power and our own deceptive hearts.  I think sometimes we try to justify sin in our past by saying eventually something good came out of it.  No, just because God forgave, redeemed, and brought beauty from ashes does not mean we were better off to have sinned.  We would not have had the ashes in the first place if we had avoided sin.

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