Wednesday in Holy Week

by Jeffrey Johnson

Jesus was troubled in spirit and declared, “Very truly, I tell you, one of you will betray me.” So, after receiving the piece of bread, Judas immediately went out. And it was night. — John 13:21,30

Betrayal. The all-too-familiar, yet still-startling turn in the Lenten narrative. The beginning of the end. Or perhaps it is the end of the beginning.

Though Judas is implicated here as the purported villain in the story, it is crucial and imperative to be reminded that this interpretation is shallow and mistaken. All of Jesus’ beloved associates and interested parties betray him. No one avoids culpability. None seem to be immune from the virulent, erosive social virus of fear. It is as if all of Jesus’ earlier teachings have suddenly evaporated. Either they deny, can’t stay awake, run away, or become conveniently absent when the going gets rough.

Who has not experienced betrayal? Or participated, perhaps unknowingly, in betrayals?

In his Divine Comedy, Dante locates betrayal in the deepest, darkest realm of personal human suffering — at “the very bottom of the ice.” The 15th-century mystic Juan de Yepes y Álvarez suggests a way through this kind of suffering in Dark Night of the Soul. As writer Mirabai Starr notes in the introduction to her translation: “The dark night is about being fully present in the tender, wounded emptiness of our own souls. It’s about not turning away from the pain but learning to rest in it.”

So we too — through personal practice and group ritual — descend into the tender emptiness of a dark night over the next days. The image of Judas walking into the shadows eclipsed by the soon-to-be renewed light of Christ.

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