Is It I, Lord?

March 19th, 2008 • Category: Lent, Holy Week, and Easter
by Robert Ferguson

Today’s scripture: John 13:21-30 (ESV-text and audio) (NRSV) (The Message)

As you read, consider: What might God be saying to me in this passage? Summarize your thoughts in a sentence or two.

My thoughts (Robert Ferguson):

I am struck by the reaction of the disciples as Jesus shares that one of them will betray him. They were perplexed and confused. Surely no one within this tight knit circle would be capable of such a horrible act. Not one of them pointed a finger at Judas. According to the Gospel of Matthew, they were sorrowful and asked, “Is it I, Lord?”

We encounter two very different characters sitting around the table with Jesus. For the first time we are introduced to the beloved disciple, and we are witnesses as Jesus hands the dipped bread to Judas.
Tradition has long held that the beloved disciple was John. This same disciple was at the cross, and it was this John whom Christ entrusted with his very own mother. In our reading John laid in the bosom of Christ, a position of honor.

At the heart of this text stands Jesus. He controls this meal and sends the disciples in the direction that God wants them to go. As we move through this Holy Week we simply must ask ourselves, “Are we more like Judas or the beloved disciple?” Perhaps, we are related to both of them.

Let’s start with Judas Iscariot. We know that Judas betrayed Jesus when he brings soldiers to the garden. Judas has been vilified as the most heinous sinner in the history of Christianity. But take a closer look at how the gospel describes him. Judas is accepted as one of the twelve. Even after Jesus identifies Judas as the one to betray him, the other disciples are not alarmed, thinking that Jesus had said to Judas: “Go, buy what we will need for the Passover meal tomorrow night” or “Go, give something to the poor.” After all, Judas was the beloved treasurer of their group.

Surprisingly, I think Judas represents us good faithful church folk. We want to follow Jesus — just as did Judas. However, like many of the disciples, Judas seemed to believe that Jesus would soon be setting up an earthly Kingdom. Perhaps Judas became a little dismayed when he realized that his plans were not the same as God’s plans.

So often we believe we are following Jesus, when we are actually following our own image of Jesus. We believe that we are authentically living lives influenced by the life of Christ, when in reality — if we are being honest — our lives are largely influenced by the world around us. Individually and collectively, we do betray Jesus often. We may even feel betrayed by the good news of Jesus, especially when it fails to provide the instant gratification we expect or fails to remove our struggles in sufficient time. If we’re honest with ourselves, most of us will realize that we’re a great deal like Judas.

But notice how Jesus responds. Jesus takes a morsel of bread and dips it in a dish and hands it to Judas. The offer of salvation and forgiveness is not extended on the premise that we are capable of being perfect. Even in the midst of our sin, Jesus offers forgiveness and salvation. In giving the dipped morsel of bread to Judas, Christ is offering the gospel to him and to us. It’s the good news that God loves us — not on the basis of our lives, but on the basis of God’s love.

Now, let’s turn to the beloved disciple: What significance does the beloved disciple play? He seems to function in our text today as one who sees when others are blind, believes when others doubt. In our passage he reclines in the bosom of Jesus: a position of honor next to Jesus. I believe that this image is presented to us as an illustration of a personally intimate Jesus. Surely Christ loved all the disciples, as he loves all of us. But John the beloved is presented as having a uniquely special and trusting relationship with Christ, something that we are all capable of having. We are invited, as a gift offered under the new covenant, to relationship with God.

Our reading today invites us to claim Judas and the beloved disciple both as a part of who we are. If we forget that we are like Judas, then we forget sin which always distorts our reality. If we forget that we are like the beloved disciple, we are blocking the Spirit who forgives us, supports us, and makes everything new. As God’s forgiven sinners and beloved children, we can live in Christ’s freedom knowing that these two represent very different parts of who we are.

Thought and prayer for the day: Who will I be today — Judas, or the beloved disciple? God, help me to recognize that both of these can live within me. Keep me aware of the things that can separate me from You. Help me to trust You — to be at peace in your presence.

We encourage you to include a time of prayer with this reading. If you need a place to get started, consider the guidelines on the How to Pray page.

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"Be still, and know that I am God." Psalm 46:10
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