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Zac DavisMarch 04, 2024
Photo from Unsplash.

A Reflection for Wednesday of Holy Week

Find today’s readings here.

“Amen, I say to you, one of you will betray me.”
Deeply distressed at this,
they began to say to him one after another,
“Surely it is not I, Lord?” (Mt 26:21-22)

Betrayal is one of those unavoidable consequences of being alive.

There are big, capital “B” Betrayals, like adultery, or treason or stabbing your friend 23 times at a meeting of the Roman Senate because he has consolidated too much power, threatening the foundations of the republic.

But there are also the much-overlooked, everyday, mediocre betrayals that we are all well-practiced at; the abandonment of an obligation we have to another person in favor of some petty convenience or small pleasure. We dominate a conversation when someone desperately needs someone else to listen; we cancel plans to rest, because, after all, they’ll understand; we promise to call, and we lose track of time.

We hurt people and are hurt by them, repeatedly and without end. We apologize, we promise to do better, and not a week, day or hour goes by before we do it again. We aren’t aware of even half of the ways we betray other people. People are notoriously bad at articulating their needs, and we are equally as bad at paying attention and responding to those needs when they do. So often we set up others to betray us when we expect them to satisfy a yearning in our hearts that only God can. No one gets out of this world alive, but it is not even possible to get out without having your heart broken at some point, by a lover, a friend, your community or your family.

Jesus tells his disciples at the Last Supper, “One of you will betray me,” but he could have easily said, “All of you will betray me.” All of the men at the Last Supper will be missing when Jesus is on the cross (a reminder that it was the women who stayed).

That said, the Betrayer in Chief in today’s Gospel is Judas. Very little is known about the historical Judas Iscariot. We don’t know why he handed over Jesus for 30 pieces of silver, but it has not stopped speculation. Rather than fixate on a motive, I want to call to mind a detail hidden in the Gospel text that is easy to overlook but makes the betrayal all the more real and sobering: Jesus and Judas loved one another.

Nick Cave, a musician and spiritual director, was asked by a fan, “How do I not have my heart broken?” His response does offer a possible way out of our human condition:

“The surest way to avoid a broken heart is to love nothing and no-one — not your partner, your child, your mother or father, your brothers or sisters; not your friends; not your neighbour; not your dog or your cat; not your football team, your garden, your granny or your job. In short, love not the world and love nothing in it. Beware of the things that draw you to love — music, art, literature, cinema, philosophy, nature and religion. Keep your heart narrow, hard, cynical, invulnerable, impenetrable, and shun small acts of kindness; be not merciful, forgiving, generous or charitable”

Yet Cave, who has buried two sons, recognizes that the vocation of all humans is to love despite the promise of heartbreak, because “to resist love and inoculate yourself against heartbreak is to reject life itself, for to love is your primary human function.” For Christians, Jesus, who experienced the depths of betrayal and heartbreak, shows there is no other response than to go on loving. Cave advises further,

“You will discover that love, radical love, is a kind of supercharged aliveness, and all that is of true value in the world is animated by it. And, yes, heartache awaits love’s end, but you find in time that this too is a gift — this little death — from which you are reborn, time and again.”

This is the promise of Easter. On the other side of every heartbreak, of every betrayal, is a resurrection. Every wound will be healed, every hurt repaired and we will see each other face to face, the way we truly are.

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