April 08, 2020 (Wednesday) - Surely Not I? - A Reflection on Matthew 26:14-25

Then one of the twelve, who was called Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and said, “What will you give me if I betray him to you?” They paid him thirty pieces of silver. And from that moment he began to look for an opportunity to betray him. On the first day of Unleavened Bread the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Where do you want us to make the preparations for you to eat the Passover?” He said, “Go into the city to a certain man, and say to him, ‘The Teacher says, My time is near; I will keep the Passover at your house with my disciples.’ ” So the disciples did as Jesus had directed them, and they prepared the Passover meal. When it was evening, he took his place with the twelve; and while they were eating, he said, “Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me.” And they became greatly distressed and began to say to him one after another, “Surely not I, Lord?” He answered, “The one who has dipped his hand into the bowl with me will betray me. The Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that one by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that one not to have been born.” Judas, who betrayed him, said, “Surely not I, Rabbi?” He replied, “You have said so.”

Most of the time when we read Scripture, or hear it read out loud (as we just did), we miss the intensity of the drama inherent in the situation described: the pathos, the poignancy, the passion. Which is why reflecting upon it is so important, because it allows us to see and hear and feel things we otherwise wouldn’t, and realize things that we might not otherwise realize. Consider today’s story.

Jesus is having what he knows is going to be his last meal with his apostles. And while they are eating he tells them that one of them is going to betray him. Quite naturally, they get very distressed. They know they are not leading perfect lives. They know they keep goofing up time and time again. They know they don’t understand much about their master, or his purpose.  Peter, for example, is rebuked by Jesus practically every time he says something or does something.

Therefore, when Jesus says one of them is gonna betray him, I am sure they are all thinking: “My God, is he talking about me? Am I the one who is going to betray him?” And they want to know. So they ask him, one by one, “Surely not I, Lord?” I can understand their fear. They love this man. They would die for him (or so they would like to believe). They wanna be with him in heaven. And to think that they might betray him — it is horrifying!

And then the real betrayer, the one who had made a deal to sell him out and KNOWS he is the one, asks the same question: “Surely not I?” There is a Hebrew word called ‘chutzpah’, which loosely translates as audacity, but audacious doesn’t describe Judas as well as chutzpah does. The chutzpah of the man to ask a question to which he knows the answer. And I wonder what is going on in HIS head as he asks the question.

Does he know his betrayal is going to lead to Jesus’s death? I think maybe he does. He knows the Jewish leaders have tried to kill Jesus on many occasions. But does he know that his betrayal is going to lead to his OWN death? I don’t think so. People like Judas don’t think of the long term consequences of their actions; they just look at the immediate pay off. And Judas got his: thirty pieces of silver. But then he got the rest of his wages: death. Because “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23a).

What a terrible tragedy! However, let us remember that “though the wages of sin (might be death) the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23). We don’t have to go the way of Judas. We can go the way of Jesus.

Until tomorrow, be at the Last Supper with Jesus and ask him the question: “Surely not I, Lord?” The look in his eyes might change your life forever. I know it did mine.