Good Friday: And It Was Night

From Rachel Aviv’s January 2nd, 2012 New Yorker article, “No Remorse”:

Shortly after midnight on March 6, 2010, Dakotah Eliason sat in a chair in his bedroom with a .38-calibre pistol in his hands, thinking about what the world would be like if he didn’t exist. One of his friends had recently killed himself, and his girlfriend had dumped him. Earlier that night, Dakotah, who was fourteen, had taken his grandfather’s loaded gun off the coatrack. The breakup felt like a sign that he would always be a failure, and he figured no one would miss him after a few days. He got a pencil and tried to compose a suicide note, but he didn’t know what he should say.


Dakotah wondered if he was ready to die, and contemplated taking someone else’s life instead. He thought about how people have good and evil sides, and how the good doesn’t always win. It was the theme of an adventure story he was writing. He drank a can of Mountain Dew, then went to the bathroom and looked at himself in the mirror. He was pale and lanky, with sandy bangs swept to the side. “What am I doing?” he said to himself. “Why? Why do I have the gun? I know better than this.”

He walked into the living room and stared at his grandfather, Jesse Miles, who was sleeping on the couch. A retired machinist and an avid hunter, Jesse often fell asleep while watching the Discovery Channel, and stayed on the couch all night so his smoker’s cough wouldn’t wake his wife. For forty-five minutes, Dakotah sat on a wooden chair, three feet from his grandfather, and talked to himself quietly, debating what to do next. If he got hand towels from the bathroom, he could gag his grandpa. If he used a steak knife, the whole thing might be quieter. He figured he’d use the cordless phone on his bed to report the crime. He felt as if he were watching a movie about himself. Finally, at just after three in the morning, he raised the handgun, his arms trembling, and shot his grandfather in the head (54).

C.S. Lewis suggested that humanity’s search for meaning might well be the great hint of God’s existence. Taking science seriously, Lewis argued that, for every other form of life, evolution first creates a need and then meets that need. Strangely though, humans seems to be the only creatures who need more than an environment and a food source. We need life to be meaningful. Indeed, we don’t seem able to survive without believing that it is meaningful. Did evolution mess up, and create a creature it couldn’t satisfy, or is evolution itself guided by some higher meaning?

Scholars suggest that our passion narratives were the first portions of our gospels to be composed. Seems like an odd place to begin, unless, like the early Christians, you were trying to make sense of, find meaning in, an event that called everything else into question, namely the death of Christ. But didn’t the resurrection answer all their questions? Didn’t it prove, once and for all, that things have a way of working out for the best?

Approach such a large hypothesis with a smaller one. We all know that everyone has to die, but when you last lost a loved one, or saw a dear one suffer, did that self-evident knowledge quell all your questions? Does knowing what has to be, explain to the human heart what it experiences in the face of such sorrow? Consider the family of Dakotah Eliason. Does knowing that “stuff happens” — to airbrush slightly the colloquialism — adequately still their grief, their shame, their horror?

The Gospel of John is the apostolic community’s final sustained meditation of upon the events of the Upper Room, the Garden of Gethsemane, and the Mount of Calvary. A half century after those events occurred, and something like resolution is finding its way into Christian consciousness.

Several distinctive features emerge in this last of our passions. To begin, the role of the Jewish leadership has been heightened, so much so as to raise the question of anti-Semitism. Of course, it’s a Jewish Christian community producing the text. It’s more accurate to say that what has come into resolution is the knowledge that Jesus was preaching a radically subversive message, one that put him on a clear collision course with the powers of this world. Hence the always negative use of that term, “world,” in this Gospel.

Secondly, there’s a solidified conviction that Jesus was not simply a victim of forces beyond his control. He moves towards Calvary, indeed begins his ministry, with an opaque, yet sufficient, understanding of what the future holds. In this Gospel, he is not seized in Gethsamene. Indeed, in the garden he appears more victor than victim.

So Judas got a band of soldiers and guards from the chief priests and the Pharisees and went there with lanterns, torches, and weapons. Jesus, knowing everything that was going to happen to him, went out and said to them, “Whom are you looking for?” They answered him, “Jesus the Nazorean.” He said to them, “I AM.” Judas his betrayer was also with them. When he said to them, “I AM,” they turned away and fell to the ground. Jesus answered, “I told you that I AM. So if you are looking for me, let these men go.” This was to fulfill what he had said, “I have not lost any of those you gave me” (Jn 18:3-9).

And then there is the figure of the betrayer himself. How does one explain such evil? Dante judged such treachery in the face of love worthy of hell’s core. Along with Brutus and Cassius, who also betrayed a man they had once loved, Caesar, Dante puts Judas in the very mouth of Satan, endlessly there for the gnawing. Even if the resurrection answered every question one would pose of Calvary, how does it explain the heart of Judas? How does it make sense Dakotah Eliason?

Somehow our apostolic forebears knew that some human questions cannot be resolved, short of posing them before the face of God. Notice how tightly this Gospel juxtaposes love and intimacy, cruelty and betrayal.

When he had said this, Jesus was deeply troubled and testified, “Amen, amen, I say to you, one of you will betray me.” The disciples looked at one another, at a loss as to whom he meant. One of his disciples, the one whom Jesus loved, was reclining at Jesus’ side. So Simon Peter nodded to him to find out whom he meant. He leaned back against Jesus’ chest and said to him, “Master, who is it?” Jesus answered, “It is the one to whom I hand the morsel” after I have dipped it.” So he dipped the morsel and [took it and] handed it to Judas, son of Simon the Iscariot. After he took the morsel, Satan entered him. So Jesus said to him, “What you are going to do, do quickly.” Now none of those reclining at table realized why he said this to him. Some thought that since Judas kept the money bag, Jesus had told him, “”Buy what we need for the feast,” or to give something to the poor. So he took the morsel and left at once. And it was night (Jn 13:21-30).

Even the Johannine community couldn’t explain the heart of Judas. Was he truly evil, horribly confused, or hopelessly ill? The same could be asked of Dakotah Eliason and so many others. The fourth gospel finds this mystery impenetrable. This gospel isn’t simply recording the hour of Judas’ departure — And it was night. — It is refusing to respond with an answer it doesn’t have. Judas walks out of history and into a darkness we cannot lift.

Humans beings desperately want meaning, but this Gospel doesn’t claim to have all of the answers. Indeed, it’s more interested in our pondering its life-saving questions than it is in stilling the ever restless search of the human heart.

Rev. Terrance W. Klein


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