Sermon for Maundy Thursday - April 13 2017

Maundy Thursday
April 13, 2017
The Rev. Evelyn Wheeler, Rector

The Betrayer – or, “You always hurt the one you love.”

For the following description of the dinner scene, I am indebted to Rodney A. Whitaker’s commentary on John, published online by InterVarsity Press that I found yesterday.[1]

Picture the scene, all the disciples and Jesus around the table.  In those days, the custom was to recline on the floor on cushions, lying on one’s left side, and eating with one’s right hand.  The diners would be “stacked” – that is, the head of one would be about at the midriff of the one to his/her left, and for each it would be the same, except the one at the farthest left, obviously – with the table in front of them. 

This is the part of the gospel that is skipped in the reading tonight. 

Jesus explained during the dinner conversation that the scripture – It’s from Psalm 41 - “The one who ate my bread has lifted his heel against me” must be fulfilled.[2]  (You can find this bit in the Pew Bible on page 876, in the right-hand column, about halfway down the paragraph that begins with verse 12.)

Then verses 21-30 continue:

After saying this, Jesus was troubled in spirit, and declared, “Very truly, I tell you, one of you will betray me.” The disciples looked at one another, uncertain of whom he was speaking. One of his disciples—the one whom Jesus loved—was reclining next to him; Simon Peter therefore motioned to him to ask Jesus of whom he was speaking. So while reclining next to Jesus, he asked him, “Lord, who is it?” Jesus answered, “It is the one to whom I give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish.” So when he had dipped the piece of bread, he gave it to Judas son of Simon Iscariot. After he received the piece of bread, Satan entered into him. Jesus said to him, “Do quickly what you are going to do.” Now no one at the table knew why he said this to him. Some thought that, because Judas had the common purse, Jesus was telling him, “Buy what we need for the festival”; or, that he should give something to the poor. So, after receiving the piece of bread, he immediately went out. And it was night.[3]

Peter wants the “disciple whom Jesus loved” to ask him who would betray him.  So, that disciple leans back, and, looking over his left shoulder, asks the question.  Jesus responds, the one to whom I give this bread.  The only two people in reach are the one on his right – which is the beloved disciple – and the one on his left. 

Knowing that Judas was the one who betrayed him, then, we may therefore conclude that Judas, the only other person in reach, was on his immediate left.

Now, here’s the thing.  Jesus is probably, because he is teacher and rabbi, reclining in the middle.  In his time and culture, the seats of honor were those nearest him, and the ones sitting higher had more “gravitas” than the ones sitting lower.

But Jesus, there in the middle, was in the seat of greatest honor.  Thus the person on his left (and physically slightly “higher” than himself) – Judas – would be the person in the second highest place of honor; and the person on his right – the beloved disciple – would be the person in the third highest place of honor.  And so on, down the line, from one side to the other, around the end of the table and down the sides, to the last and lowest places of honor.

Judas was, then, #2 at this dinner. 

Closest to the heart, closest to the rabbi, clever, smart, and the group’s treasurer. 

No one knew whom Jesus meant would betray him – some sources say that all of them asked, either Jesus or themselves, “Is it I?” – not just Peter.  But it would also appear that no one heard Jesus’ answer except the two closest to him – the beloved disciple, and Judas himself.  So they didn’t know what it meant when Jesus told Judas, “Do quickly what you are going to do.”

Did Jesus’ statement push Judas over the edge?


Jesus is pretty clear about what “must” happen to him.  Maybe his most trusted companion was the only one he trusted to do what “must” be done?

And the beloved disciple was the one who “must” tell of this conversation to the others?


So we see Judas get up and leave, and we know what came after – betrayal, arrest, torture, and death.  And Judas’ despair and suicide.

Maybe we are a bit hard on Judas – but we are certainly no harder on him than he was himself.  After all, after the resurrection, all the disciples who ran away, even Thomas, who seemed the hardest to convince, found Jesus to be forgiving.

Might Judas also have been forgiven, if, instead of yielding to despair, he had repented and returned?

Is any sin too great to be forgiven, if the heart be turned?

This is an important question – particularly in the current days, when we are so very quick to blame others for the things they do or don’t do, without even considering that they might be trying to cope with any manner of thing we don’t even know.  How can we hope to move forward together with those whom God has told us to love?  Which is pretty much everybody?



[1], viewed 4/12/2017.

[2] Psalm 41:9 “Even my best friend, whom I trusted, who broke bread with me, has lifted up his heel and turned against me.”

[3] John 21-30. NRSV.

  January 2018  
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