Immediately, while he was still speaking, Judas, one of the twelve, arrived; and with him there was a crowd with swords and clubs, from the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders. Now the betrayer had given them a sign, saying, ‘The one I will kiss is the man; arrest him and lead him away under guard.’ So when he came, he went up to him at once and said, ‘Rabbi!’ and kissed him. Then they laid hands on him and arrested him. But one of those who stood near drew his sword and struck the slave of the high priest, cutting off his ear. Then Jesus said to them, ‘Have you come out with swords and clubs to arrest me as though I were a bandit? Day after day I was with you in the temple teaching, and you did not arrest me. But let the scriptures be fulfilled.’ All of them deserted him and fled. A certain young man was following him, wearing nothing but a linen cloth. They caught hold of him, but he left the linen cloth and ran off naked.
Many of us know what it is to experience betrayal. We may have been betrayed by a friend, a lover, a family member, a congregant. Betrayal is always difficult and involves a whole range of emotions – confusion and anger, rage and depression. We scream at the injustice of it and struggle with our sense of futility when we realise there is nothing we can do to make things better.
This sense of betrayal is seen most painfully in our intimate relationships; I have experienced betrayal there and in church contexts – both are painful as when we let people into our lives we take a huge risk that we will be hurt. Sometimes we are tempted not to trust, to keep people at a distance, to preserve our personal space (and sanity) in the hope that we won’t get hurt but life isn’t really like that. In order to love we need to let go and take a risk; that is very hard after a betrayal.
In today’s reading we see Jesus betrayed by one of those closest to him – and to make matters worse the sign of the betrayal was the intimate touch inherent in a kiss. A gesture of love becomes the means of betrayal; a sign of intimacy becomes a token of death. To make matters worse Jesus’ closest friends run off into the night – one not even worrying about being naked as he ran away.
When we experience betrayal we can take comfort in the fact that Jesus knows what it’s like – as his closest companions betrayed him by word and deed as well as by silence and inaction. In time we can be enabled to forgive as Jesus did; but it takes time and God’s grace.
Lord Jesus, betrayed by a kiss, deserted by friends, handed over to evil men; comfort those who are betrayed and battered by lovers, nurture those deserted by family, spouse or friend, strengthen those oppressed and tortured by the powers of evil, and enable us to stand by friends and family and stranger and intimate ones that we may not betray you or those you entrust to us. Amen.
Andy Braunston is minister-elect in the Glasgow Southside Cluster and coordinator of the URC Daily Devotions Project.