|Traitor at the Table
Text: Luke 22:1-23
The betrayer sat at the table with Jesus and Jesus knew who the betrayer was. He was one of the Twelve, one of the chosen. He had cast out demons and proclaimed the coming of the kingdom. Jesus had prayed over that choice and yet Satan entered Judas’ heart and Satan won the battle.
The leaders of Israel—the powers that ruled its religion and temple—wanted to entrap Jesus so that he would lose his popularity among the people. But they had been unsuccessful. They wanted to kill him but were unable to seize him in a way that would not create a disturbance or even riot. They wanted to avoid Roman intervention, and the Romans were on heightened alert during Passover time.
And Judas provided the opportunity. He knew where Jesus spent his nights. He knew where Jesus might be taken in secret away from the public crowds that hung on his every word in the temple. So Judas arranges Jesus’ arrest and then goes to sit at table with him. Judas and Jesus eat the Passover together that night.
The table that night must have been quite a festive occasion. Oh, I know that we usually think of the Passover as a solemn, almost morbid, event, and especially the last Passover Jesus has with his disciples. It was, after all, the night on which he was betrayed and the night he announced his coming death. But Jesus also announced something wondrous that night.
The Passover was a celebratory festival which anticipated the coming reign of God as well as remembering Israel’s past deliverance from bondage. It remembered good news in the past and anticipated future good news. It was hopeful for the future as it celebrated the past. The Passover was a time of great rejoicing and excitement that brought Israel to the edge of their seat.
I believe its festive character pervaded the table that night. Indeed, Jesus’ announced good news at the beginning of the meal. At the moment, seemingly, when the host was to rehearse the meaning of the Passover (the haggadah) at the second cup of wine, Jesus announces the coming of the kingdom of God. Not that unusual except that he declares that the next time he and his disciples eat the Passover together it will be in the kingdom of God.
The disciples must have been astounded by such a statement. No doubt they have been wondering when the kingdom would come, and now they know it will come within the next year—according to their measurement of Jesus’ words. Next year, at the next Passover, they will be eating with the Master in the kingdom of God! (More than likely this generated the subsequent discussion about who was going to be the greatest in the kingdom.)
No doubt they sang the little hallel (e.g., Psalm 113) with great gusto at that moment. “Praise the Lord…The Lord is exalted above all the nations…He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap…Praise the Lord.”
Judas heard this too and no doubt sang Psalm 113 with the rest of the disciples sitting at that table. I wonder what he was thinking. I wonder if he doubted his earlier arrangement. Had he acted too soon? Or, would his act precipitate the coming kingdom? I don’t know; no one does. But he was at the table, eating with Jesus and still intending to complete the betryal.
Then, as the main meal begins, Jesus gives a new meaning to this last supper. The “supper” (eating the lamb) begins with the breaking of the bread. But with this bread Jesus reinterprets the meal. Hereafter, the Passover will be eaten in his memory. In the future, the disciples will remember Jesus. The sacrificial meal will honor his sacrifice as he gives his body for humanity. Jesus himself, rather than the lamb, will be the sacrifice. Jesus is the lamb!
Judas is still at the table. He eats the bread, and he eats the roasted lamb. The bread is for him too—the body of Jesus is given for Judas too.
Having eaten the lamb (“supper”), Jesus takes the cup which is now either the third or fourth cup of wine at the Passover meal. But the wine is no longer about Israel’s past redemption, but it is about Jesus’ own sacrifice. It is his blood and it inaugurates a new covenant. The new covenant (reminding us of Jeremiah 31) is about forgiveness, but it is also about the law written in our heart. The blood cleanses but it also makes new—and a new relationship is enacted between God and his people.
And Judas is at the table. His hand is on the same table with Jesus. He drinks the cup—the blood is poured out for him too.
But Judas is the betrayer, though he sits at the table as one of the disciples. He sings the Psalms of redemption (e.g., Psalms 114-118). He sings “this is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it.” He eats the bread and drinks the cup; and he sings the songs. He listens to the Master…but his heart is in another place. He has a different agenda.
Sound familiar? To what extent are we all Judas today as we sit at this table with Jesus? Do we eat and drink with divided hearts? Do we sing the songs and hear the word only to dismiss their meaning for the sake of our own agendas? To what extent do we eat and drink with our own agenda instead of in covenant with Jesus?
Table time is covenant time. It is when we renew our pledge to God and God renews his pledge to us. It is a time of communion, but also rededication. It is a time to again choose whom we will serve. It is a time of covenant renewal—God renewing his covenant with us (“this is my body given for you” and “this is my blood poured out for you”) as we renew covenant with him.
But even in this moment of talk about betrayal there is hope. Yes, the Son of Man will die, but he is the Son of Man. He is the eschatological human who breaks in from the future to declare the coming kingdom of God. The Son of Man dies but the kingdom will come!
Yes, “this is my body” and “this is my blood.” Yes, the lamb is sacrificed for the sins of the world. But Jesus will eat and drink again with his disciples when the kingdom of God comes. Death is not the end. The grave is not the final stop. Though he suffers, the Son of Man will enter glory and the kingdom will come. The joy of the kingdom will conquer death, and Sunday will transform Friday. On Sunday, Jesus ate with his disciples again, and even now the living Christ, the eschatological Son of Man, eats with his disciples. But let us be vigilant lest we ourselves are Judas at that table. Let us eat in faith and hope and commitment.