This is the night, dear friends

Judas betrays Jesus.
Copyright Florida Center for Instructional Technology.

Today’s hymn for Holy Week from Sing Praise is “This is the night, dear friends” by Richard Sturch to a tune by CHH Parry.  The original text was apparently in Latin by the 12th century French theologian Peter Abélard (perhaps better known for his romance with Eloïse), so if the theme seems strange, it’s because we don’t share the medieval mindset.

The overall theme of this hymn is Christ’s betrayal, which of course was most clearly seen in the actions of Judas. He is not named here, but clearly referenced, and described in verse 2 as the “wolf within the sheepfold”, picking up on one of Jesus’ own images of himself as the good shepherd in contracts to the wolves of evil.  His act of betrayal in leaving the table of fellowship is described as “injustice joining its hand to treason’s, and buying the ransom price of humankind”. (Or should that really be “selling the ransom price of humankind”, since Judas gained money by handing Jesus over?)

That contrast or irony – that in accepting money in return for betraying Jesus he was actually enabling God to pay the ransom price for all our sins – is one of several in the words of the hymn. In verse 2 again, “the wolf … betrays himself to his victim’s will” (Jesus knew all along that he would be betrayed by one of his disciples, it was part of God’s plan) and “sin brings about the cure for sin’s own ill” which is a similar image to that of buying our ransom. 

In verse 4, there are other ironies: Jesus is arrested by slaves – “he who destroys our slavery to sin”, another irony, perhaps symbolised when he heals the slave’s ear that has been cut off by one of his own disciples (although a bit of research suggests that the unfortunate servant was the high priest’s right-hand man rather than a mere slave).  Also, “accused of crime, to criminals (he was) given” and he, the righteous Judge, is judged.

All these examples point to the fact that even in his last hours as a man, and subject to forces beyond his human control, Jesus continually demonstrated that he was overturning usual human expectations in order to bring about God’s kingdom.

The Bible in a Year – 3 November.

If this is your first viewing, please see my Introduction before reading this.

3 November. Matthew chapters 25-26

Jesus continues his Holy Week teaching on the end times with a set of three parables – the ten virgins (or bridesmaids), the three servants entrusted with money (‘parable of the talents’) and the sheep and goats.  These all give some indication of the sort of lives that we should lead, knowing that Jesus will someday return in judgement: keeping alert, using wisely whatever possessions and talents (for this is where the English word comes from) we have, and treating everyone in need (but especially fellow believers) as if they were Christ himself.

Chapter 26 is Matthew’s account of Holy (or Maundy) Thursday, in which Jesus is betrayed by his disciple Judas, shares the Passover with his disciples for the last time with the words that are said over the bread and wine at every celebration of the Mass, prays in the Garden of Gethsemane, is arrested and denied by Peter.  In this one chapter we see his three years of ministry apparently coming to an end.  For those of us who know the rest story already it may not seem so bad, for we know what his death would achieve.  He had tried to prepare the disciples for this moment, telling the repeatedly that “the Son of Man must be killed and rise again on the third day”.  Yet it is understandable that when the time comes, all they can see are soldiers with swords and clubs, arresting an unarmed man who would not strike back, and were too afraid to follow.    They all run away (v.56).

All, that is, except Peter, who to his credit sits by the fire in the courtyard in the darkness, staying within sight or at least hearing of what is going on.  Jesus may be about to die, but he wants at least to observe it for himself (v.58), just as he was present at the Transfiguration. Maybe he thought that Moses and Elijah would appear again at the last minute to save Jesus.  But they did not – Jesus had already realised that calling on “legions of angels” (v.53) would not help, when what was required was his own free acceptance of ultimate suffering.

What Peter feared in that moment was presumably being arrested, tried and tortured like Jesus.  But those who accused him of being “one of them”, “being with Jesus” were not soldiers or Temple officials, they were mere servants. Would they have felt able to turn him to the priests? Would their testimony have been accepted anyway?  So was Peter, in denying Jesus, acting in self-preservation in order to save his life from real danger, or was he just too nervous to give his testimony?  It would all change at Pentecost.

Peter and Judas both knew they had betrayed Jesus, and both of them soon deeply regretted it.  The difference was that whereas Judas went and hanged himself, Peter stuck around to the end, and was rewarded by being pardoned by Jesus after the Resurrection.  If you can cling on to hope in God even in the worst of times, you will not be disappointed.