This blog offers a meditation on the Common Lectionary daily readings along with a headline from world news:
WHERE IS MOHAMMED MORSI NOW?
New English Translation (NET)
Betrayal and Arrest
43 Right away, while Jesus was still speaking, Judas, one of the twelve, arrived. With him came a crowd armed with swords and clubs, sent by the chief priests and experts in the law and elders. 44 (Now the betrayer had given them a sign, saying, “The one I kiss is the man. Arrest him and lead him away under guard.”) 45 When Judas arrived, he went up to Jesus immediately and said, “Rabbi!” and kissed him. 46 Then they took hold of him and arrested him. 47 One of the bystanders drew his sword and struck the high priest’s slave, cutting off his ear. 48 Jesus said to them, “Have you come with swords and clubs to arrest me like you would an outlaw? 49 Day after day I was with you, teaching in the temple courts, yet you did not arrest me. But this has happened so that the scriptures would be fulfilled.” 50 Then all the disciples left him and fled. 51 A young man was following him, wearing only a linen cloth. They tried to arrest him, 52 but he ran off naked, leaving his linen cloth behind.a
How many persons in the world today will be arrested by paid thugs and taken off to a show trial? This can happen in many countries, even among those that pride themselves on democratic rule. There’s more than a suspicion that in the UK, especially in London, that that illegal arrest happens disproportionately to people whose skin is not pink; and if the police or security services think you’re dangerous you’re likely to die. But at least this arouses protest in the UK; there are countries where brutal oppression is so common it’s taken for granted.
Jesus Christ experienced this form of oppression, and doubtless encourages his present day disciples to belong to Amnesty International which monitors illegal arrest and imprisonment round the world, and supports those who suffer them.
The part Judas plays in Jesus’ arrest reminds the reader that treachery can as easily come from inside the community of disciples as from outside it. Judas’ motives have been the subject of speculation, while Jesus’ emotions towards his betrayer have perhaps been neglected. Genuine betrayal is always an intimate grief; the victim may wonder what he/she has done to deserve it; or what was lacking in their love or friendship that it could be so comprehensively abused. The kiss by which Judas identifies Jesus is a sign f this intimate wound.
Jesus’ calm exposure of the reasons for his clandestine arrest shows his awareness of the authorities’ dilemma-Jesus was widely esteemed as a good man-and of their unwitting contribution to a drama whose author has sketched the plot in scripture. The scripture Jesus had in mind is not cited but it is probably Isaiah chapter 53, “By oppression and judgement he was taken away…”
The young man dressed in a linen cloth may be the author’s way of leaving a trace of himself in his narrative; but he does not do this for the kind of reasons that might prompt a postmodern novelist to do so. Rather he is refusing to separate himself from the pathetic cowardice of Jesus’ disciples. Indeed the young man may be the Christian reader as well as the author. If we are in this story as disciples, we are numbered among those who “left him and fled.”
Many churches in the developed world today, where membership is declining rapidly, clamour for ways of making the gospel attractive to those outside the churches, especially younger men and women. The gospels which depict the Son of God abandoned by all except a handful of powerless women, offer no basis on which a popular message can be built. Discipleship of the one “taken away by oppression and by judgement” is unlikely to be popular in any society.