Judas kisses Jesus, an act of ultimate betrayal. CNS photo/Paul Haring

Mary Marrocco: Learning how to turn betrayal upside down

  • April 7, 2019

How do we not become violent in an age of violence? How can we find another way when in our world, and even in our Church, violence seems to have made such terrible inroads?

We might manage, through super- human effort, to avoid hurting people or being mean to people we love. Even that is not enough. We are asked to go beyond what we can muster up our strength to do.

Watch the steps of the passion and you will see that if we follow Christ, we are asked to go where we can’t go. To receive violence and not give it back. To call upon God when there is no hope at all.

To experience the worst of what people are capable of and still love them. To not use our power over or against people, even for the sake of others who are suffering.

To cry out into the abyss. To wait for God to act when waiting means unbearable destruction. To forgive in face of betrayal. To bring mercy into hell.

How could this have been possible for Christ? How could it ever be possible for us?

To learn the impossible way, we have to learn who Jesus is. He is the one who was betrayed — and turned betrayal upside down. At the heart of the cross is a betrayal, but at God’s hands, it is turned inside out. The tradition presents it this way: “The night on which He was betrayed” is the night on which He “gave Himself up” — in Greek, the same word. The betrayal of Jesus is the other side of God giving Himself up for us.

Jesus gets it both ways: God’s apparent betrayal of Him by abandonment, and human betrayal that puts God on the cross. So Jesus stands in the crux of our ultimate complaint against God. He takes it on. He does not return evil, though suffering its effects. He does not return betrayal, though going to the limit of the harm it can wreak.

The taste of betrayal is bitter, like the gall Jesus was given to drink on the cross. Betrayal is intimate and personal. The betrayer isn’t someone you hate or don’t know, but someone you love. Otherwise it wouldn’t be so hard. Jesus doesn’t hate the betrayer; He loves him, whether it’s His own Peter, or Judas, or me.

Only people who know you well can betray you — somebody who knows where you will hang out after supper (Café Olivetti) — somebody who has lived a double life with you. Betrayal is intimate, personal, sometimes with the best of intentions. The betrayer may not even perceive his actions as betrayal, perhaps reasoning “it’s better for one person to die instead of all” or “maybe this will force a climax and end the suffering.”

Maybe Judas thought he could reconcile the power of the religious authorities with the teaching of Jesus. Perhaps Judas’ kiss in Gethsemane was sincere. Does Judas hang himself for someone he hates, or someone he loves?

In handing over Jesus personally, lovingly even, what did Judas betray? Not an idea, nor a movement, but a person. He betrayed the pattern of Jesus’ heart, which is to say, the way of kenotic (self-emptying) love. He betrayed the one who is non-successful, non-militaristic, non-gripping of power and control. As a friend, did Judas try to push Jesus to where the devil couldn’t get him to go — to seizing power? If Judas thought he could improve the Gospel, or get Jesus to live it his way, the cost was high: Jesus’ death and Judas’ inability to face the truth, leading to his suicide. He tried to undo the path of the cross; he tried to get love to be other than it is.

Is there hope for Judas? Jesus and Judas meet in the “harrowing of hell,” where Easter begins. What did Judas do then? Here, the tradition is silent.

We know, though, that God descends into hell. We don’t have to die to find out. We are living the meaning of the Creed we profess every Sunday. When we feel “stuck” some way — by betraying, or being betrayed, or in any of the myriad traps that threaten us — God’s mercy reaches here too, wresting life out of death.

What was it that happened on the night He was betrayed — or rather, gave Himself up? He taught us how to become bread, how to give ourselves up for the life of the world. We don’t have to wait and wonder. We carry the truth in our hands, in our flesh, in our desire (however weak or humble) to learn His way of self-emptying love from the cross.

Easter is hidden everywhere. It’s not even well-hidden. It flares out all over the place, like the bright Easter eggs you want the littlest ones to be sure to find.

This is our way. This is our life.

(Marrocco can be reached at marrocco7@sympatico.ca)

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