night

preachinga j.o.t. (just one thought), based on John 13.21-32, shared with the people of Epiphany Episcopal Church, Laurens, SC, during Evening Prayer on Wednesday in Holy Week, March 23, 2016

Judas, son of Simon Iscariot, will betray Jesus. Jesus knows it and declares it, “One of you will betray me,” then demonstrates it, saying, “The one to whom I give this piece of bread.” Judas knows Jesus knows it. And Jesus, refusing to answer directly the question of one of his disciples, “Lord, who is it?”, despite the symbolic act of giving Judas the piece of bread, does not point his finger identifying, “outing” Judas.

Ours is a time of increasingly tumultuous politics. During any election cycle, supporters and protesters of any given candidate confront and clash with one another, vigorously waving posters and placards touting their encouragement or dissent, and spewing ideological invective at one another. During this year of presidential campaigns, at least one contender’s rhetorical vitriol has sparked acts of violence against those who demonstrate against him. I imagine if Jesus had answered the question, “Lord, who is it?”, saying, “Judas”, I doubt the betrayer would have left that room; the rest of the disciples seizing, subduing, wounding Judas, perhaps worse.

That didn’t happen. Jesus let Judas go to do his dastardly deed; his departure being for Jesus a sign of the fulfillment of his divine destiny to die on the cross, “Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him.”

The Last Supper (La ultima Cena), Benjamin West, 1786

Had I been Jesus, I, à la Donald Trump in response to a protester, would have pointed at Judas, shouting to my disciples, “Get him!” Yet, in so doing, I would have thwarted the will of God…

One of the most important details of this story is conveyed in three words: It was night. This is no mere indication of the time of day, but rather a symbolic expression of the terrible, tragic spiritual condition of darkness, as Jesus has said, loved by those whose deeds are evil,[1] where none can do the works of light,[2] where none can walk the righteous path, but rather stumble and fall.[3]

It was night. God-defying, God-denying evil was in existence and exists still. Yet this is the paradox of God’s politics, the way God works, the way God governs: The only way to confront and defeat evil is to allow it to do its work, and thus to be exposed, “outed” in the light. So Judas goes out and betrays Jesus, setting in motion the victory o’er evil that we will celebrate in four days; a celebration we repeat whenever we, as children of the Light, confront darkness.

 

Illustration: The Last Supper (La ultima Cena), Benjamin West, 1786. Jesus (background, center-left), a bright aura or corona around his head, sits and watches as a brooding Judas (foreground, center-right) prepares to depart into the night.

Footnotes:

[1] John 3.19

[2] John 9.4

[3] John 10.9-10

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2 thoughts on “night

  1. So Paul, thank you for these are words that we can all use right now. I don’t think I’m alone when I say I need some words to explain what we’ve seen this election season. It’s hard not to call some of what we’ve witnessed inciting to riot…. but what was comforting to me in this j.o.t.is that everything will come out in the light in due time. It feels pretty dark when watching the footage of speeches and brawls, so I’m hoping that people who are following this candidate will be able to see the light before election day. What I hadn’t thought about that you raise here, is that we defeat evil by letting it do it’s work, so it can be outed… who knew?? I was getting afraid that evil in this case was, as Charlie Sheen would say “winning”!! I keep praying that good will win out over evil, and because we tend to have very short memories, we can forget about this political season in short order. Your j.o.t. was encouraging! Most people just fuss about Trump and his evil.What I appreciate about what you’ve done is the fact that you’ve made sense of dark and light, and good and evil. I takeaway that evil may seem horrible as it’s occurring, BUT if we as children of God stick together and confront evil (in a peaceful way) it will all come to light. So I’m left with some words I’ll likely read over and over until November. For that and for you I’m grateful!!

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    • Loretta, the more I ponder what I consider to be an aspect of the mystery of God – that evil is allowed to do its work and thus can be “outed” (seen for what it is) in the light – the more sure I am, first, that this is how God seems to work (this is an element of divine politics, how God is) and, second, that I don’t like it! I want God to stop it, fix it, do something! As God doesn’t appear to me to act that way, leaving me to struggle to accept things as they are, then I arrive at the belief (trust!) that no matter how awful things appear and are, God will sort it out in the end. I may not live to see it, but…I am called, I think, I believe, I hope to trust. I confess that I am less than comforted arriving at this place, but I consider it a honest stance to take.

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