The sun was beginning to peel back the night sky. It had been a long night, but today would be the day. He would gather the many and call a few. As their feet stepped out of the mass, their names would go down in Holy Writ. But no one in the crowd would have ever thought…
But He knew. He knew that 11 would stay true and one would run into the night. He knew the tables would turn, and He still pulled up a chair. He knew the number of steps it would take to get up that hill, eyes squinting, blood dripping. But He didn’t even stumble as He did life right alongside the one who would sell their relationship for some silver. He knew.
Simon, Andrew, James, John, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James (son of Alphaeus), Simon Zealot, Judas (son of James), Judas Iscariot.
Where was the hesitation? The pause and deep inhale? The change in tone that would cause a crowd to question? The palms rubbing together? Where was the glance in the other direction? Or even the glare that said, “I know”?
I’ve searched the ink. But you can’t find something that never existed.
Hours would turn to days, days to years, and the night He had known about all along would arrive. And here’s where my mind begins to spin. All four Gospels record the announcement that one of these twelve brothers would betray Him. And all four Gospels repeat that they looked at one another and wondered, which one could it be?
How did they not know? Was Judas Iscariot that sneaky? Did he hide his greed and thievery that well? Perhaps. But He wasn’t hiding anything from the All Knowing One.
What if the very reason they did not know who the betrayer was is because Jesus had not one single time treated any of them as an enemy. “Bless those who curse you; pray for those who hurt you” He had said, and I cannot help but wonder how many times Judas’ name had been lifted high in early morning prayer. “If someone slaps you on the cheek, offer the other cheek also; If someone demands your coat, offer your shirt also” and He would give His cheek, His coat, His life.
What did their eleven faces look like as they played that night over and over, realizing that He had known all along and none of them had a clue? Day in. Day out. Jesus had loved Judas the same.
How do you love someone who would betray you to the point of your death, just like you love the very same ones who would give their last breath for your name? And love them to the point that your closest crew would never suspect a traitor in the group? It’s the question that keeps rising to the top, because I’ve been sold out.
If you’re like me, then we’re over here tripping, rolling, and stumbling to get back on our feet and move ahead, and I’m not talking about some fire drill gone wrong. We want to chase after Jesus with all we have, but sometimes there’s a chip on our shoulder weighing us down. We want to run after Him, but we’ve been known to take a detour because we needed to snatch our coat back…and take theirs too. They took so much. Our cheek has been hit, and we’ve spun around swinging back. We can’t run this race with balled up fists in our face while chanting, “float like a butterfly, sting like a bee”. That’ll just leave us bouncing back and forth. Stagnant.
And maybe you’re not the fighter like me. Maybe you’re more of a flighter. Your detour has been running in the opposite direction because you’d rather avoid it all costs. You might bottle it up and put the lid on tight, but that junk will begin to shake and expand. Because regardless of how we process, it never feels good when you’re at the wrong end of someone’s wrong.
Throw an emotion out there and forgiveness probably evokes it. Anger, sadness, hope, excitement, fear, joy… This piece alone has taken me over three weeks to write because I realized I needed to work through some things.
With these thoughts rolling around in my mind, my heart…
1. Fact: People close to you are going to let you down. They’re going to betray you, sell you out, steal your joy, leave you when you need them, and drop you with a quickness. But can we still make a choice to love them today? I don’t know if Jesus woke up every morning and said, “Judas is going to betray me, but today I will show him what love looks like, feels like, and acts like.” Jesus was tempted in every way, so you know He must have been tempted to call Judas out long before or maybe to not even call his name to begin with. He must have been tempted to point His finger at him during the Sermon on the Mount. Or maybe even on the walk to the Passover meal that day, he was tempted to step on Judas’ sandal strings and watch him fall flat on his face. But He never did.
Instead, He woke up every morning, knowing that one of His closest was going to let Him down, and He walked in a state of forgiveness and love in the present.
What if forgiveness is something we are to wake up every morning and decide we are going to walk in for every step of our day? What if we have a mindset of forgiveness already in place with our spouse, kids, co-workers, friends, family, and even the jerk who cut us off on our way to work? Because throughout our day people are going to let us down, but it’s harder to let someone down who started their day on the mat.
2. What would our lives look like if we took others off the pedestal they never even belonged on? Do we set the bar at a height that people were never meant to reach? Do we put expectations on them that they were never meant to carry?
One thing I’ve processed over and over with one person in my life is that I always feel the most hurt when I put my hope in them. I’ve been told multiple times that they were going to change, this time will be different, etc. The times I am most let down are the times where I lift them in a way that I put my faith in their word and not God’s.
No person belongs on a pedestal that is high and lifted up, that’s where Jesus belongs. When I keep my heart aligned with His word, I can walk through these times on solid ground. It’s when I align with someone else’s word that my footing is unsure and I always end up flat on my back, gasping for air.
3. What if forgiveness isn’t just a once, twice, or seven times sort of thing? What if some days it’s every second?
One of the hardest things I’ve ever had to work through was years ago, and some days I find myself working through it again. And it takes work.
A song can trigger those emotions and thoughts, so can a place, a road, a show. I even purged my closet at one point because some shirts I had sent me there. Just call me Marie Kondo, that junk didn’t bring me joy.
I can see now why some people give in, throw in the towel, and just can’t handle it. The thoughts are everywhere, and it seems like you relive the situation again…and again…and again. So you cut ties, run away, take it out on others, go nuts, or however you deal with it because you can’t seem to escape. Or cope.
What if we realize that just because we are okay and forgiving one minute doesn’t mean the next is going to be that way? Because I’ve had to forgive the same thing at least 3,459,217 times. And tomorrow it might be 3,459,218.
Which brings me to my final point…
4. Unforgiveness wants to move in, but scripture will send it packing.
When Jesus cries out, “Father, forgive them.” The Greek word for forgiveness means “to send away from, release”. How in the world are we to send the wrong away from us instead of letting it take up residence? Because that’s exactly what happens when we harbor unforgiveness. It moves on in and takes up root.
But what if when the thing comes knocking, it’s met at the door with a mind already set on forgiveness? And a heart that has buried God’s word so deep within it that there’s no room for unforgiveness? I realize I’m writing on a subject that some of you would look at me and say, “But you don’t know what was done.” And I’m here to say, as carefully as I know how, God’s word is the only way to rise up out of those ashes. Memorize it. Sear it to your brain. Shout it. Whisper it. Put your hope in it. Whatever situation you don’t feel like you can handle, God has a word for it. Find it. Devour it. However many times it takes.
Judas stepped out of the crowd that day. Jesus knew. He had known from the first knit of Judas in his mother’s womb, from the forming of dust at the beginning. He still chose a daily walk of forgiveness, prayers lifting for those who would cause hurt, and a love that covered them all. He knew. He knows.
This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same testings we do, yet he did not sin. So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most. -Hebrews 4:15-16