Palm Sunday 2007
Honesty. Loyalty. Faithfulness. Love.
We have a burning desire for fidelity. We crave it. We make movies and stage plays and write songs ad nausea about how the lack of fidelity crushes us. Betrayal is a frightening event that wounds and maims. It is a universal experience, the betrayal of love and trust. We humans tend to always find a way to break the commitments, the vows we make seeking a "moral loophole".
The Passion is a scene of great love and devastating betrayal. Jesus is facing the horrors of crucifixion. He is anguish beyond description and he has his friends with him. However, he knows that he has been marked by Judas and that Peter, the Rock upon which Jesus will build his Church, will turn his back on him and deny him. It is gut wrenching to imagine the heartbreak that Jesus experienced at he looked into the eyes of those who would betray and deny him even though he would be faithful to them. Now, Jesus is utterly alone.
The Apostles have walked with Jesus, shared food and hardship, joy and pain, yet they would not be faithful to Jesus on that day of horror. Fidelity would not rule the day but betrayal and fear would reign in the hearts of Jesus' friends. Through it all, Jesus remains the definition of perfect fidelity.
Judas is often overlooked as merely a money hungry and corrupt man. If Judas was so shallow as to merely want money then his great expression of remorse is hollow. It is thought that perhaps Judas was trying to force Jesus' hand by getting him to prove that he was the Messiah. Many, including the Zealots, believed that the Messiah would be a mighty warrior who would crush the Romans and restore Israel. Was Judas trying to get Jesus to do what he believed the Messiah should do? Were the thirty pieces of silver just icing on the cake? We do not know for sure. I do believe Judas' motives were more complicated than merely getting money out of the deal. We do know that Judas would turn his back on Jesus and betray him. Judas would betray the one he claimed to love. Judas would abandon Jesus for his own selfish desires.
Then we have the denial of Peter. Here was the one who proudly proclaimed his love of Jesus. Yet when the reality of the horrors that awaited Jesus arrived, Peter would deny Jesus with venom. Three times Peter would renounce his Lord. Three times Peter would seek to nullify his relationship with Jesus. Three years of living, eating, travelling and sharing in miracles would be as nothing when Peter became terrified. Peter sought to save his own skin while Jesus was facing his death. With friends like that...
We have the scene of Peter watching as Jesus is mocked and questioned. It is a frightening scene for Peter and as he denies Jesus for the final time, Jesus turns and looks at Peter. In that moment, Peter comes face to face with his own betrayal of his Lord. One sells out his Lord, the other denies having ever known him. Absolute failure of those who proclaimed their faith in the Lord. We can only imagine the look on Jesus' face as he looked into Peter's eyes.
Then there is the betrayal of the people. They have witnessed God's hand at work. The miracles that Jesus worked should have been enough! Jesus has loved them and taken care of them. Yet they refuse to believe and they want Jesus silenced. They betray Jesus by asking for the release of a Zealot who had committed acts of religious terrorism. Barabas was a killer and they preferred him over the Jesus. Everything Jesus had done for them meant nothing. Jesus went against what they thought the Messiah should be. Their selfishness led them to betray, convict, and kill an innocent man. Humans are a fickle lot to say the least. As soon as we don't like something, we seek to dispose of it whether it be a possession, an obligation, or a person.
But who is the one who is faithful? The prisoner condemned to die alongside Jesus! The one who would be written off by society is the one who believes in Jesus even as he faces his own terror. This criminal hanging beside Jesus proclaims his faith even while being executed. The onlookers betray while the condemned believes. The ironies of The Passion are amazing!
Jesus is willing to die. Jesus is willing to be sacrificed because of his limitless love of humanity. Jesus would accept the cross because of his perfect fidelity. Regardless of how we respond to Jesus, he still loves us unconditionally and he will never abandon us. We chose to abandon him and we condemn ourselves in that action.
We are given the choice of saying yes or no to Jesus' call. We are invited to share in Jesus' limitless love. Jesus' is the model of perfect fidelity, a fidelity that never betrays, denies or abandons. We are so jaded as a people in part due to the betrayal of trust that we experience in our life. The "moral loopholes" that are practiced is numbing to the soul. In Jesus we have the love that will never betray, lie, cheat, or abandon. Why is it so hard for us at times to see the fullness of Jesus' love?
Can we practice such unwavering fidelity? I believe that we can, in part. We will always be tempted to practice "premeditated moral failure" (A definition of sin I got from a good friend that I think is brilliant.) Or we can just call it sin. Sin isn't something that just happens. We make a choice, it is premeditated. We are imperfect and we will mess up from time to time. The glory is that even when we willfully disobey Jesus, he never abandons us. His perfect fidelity will not be shattered. Jesus will love us even when we believe that we are unlovable.
We are given Jesus' love so freely that it is hard to wrap our heads around it. Jesus' faithfulness is beyond anything we experience in our day to day life. Yet it gives us the model to strive for. We are called to be faithful to God and to one another. We are given a choice to accept or deny Jesus' call to perfect fidelity. To accept his call is to be given a share of God's Kingdom. To refuse, well, the loss we would experience is too much to bear. We will not be perfect. We will stumble and mess up. That is why we have the love of Christ to carry us home to God's glorious Kingdom.