Wednesday, 20 April 2011


Gospel Matthew 26:14-25 

One of the Twelve, the man called Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and said, ‘What are you prepared to give me if I hand him over to you?’ They paid him thirty silver pieces, and from that moment he looked for an opportunity to betray him.

Now on the first day of Unleavened Bread the disciples came to Jesus to say, ‘Where do you want us to make the preparations for you to eat the passover?’ ‘Go to so-and-so in the city’ he replied ‘and say to him, “The Master says: My time is near. It is at your house that I am keeping Passover with my disciples.”’ The disciples did what Jesus told them and prepared the Passover.

When evening came he was at table with the twelve disciples. And while they were eating he said ‘I tell you solemnly, one of you is about to betray me’ They were greatly distressed and started asking him in turn, ‘Not I, Lord, surely?’ He answered, ‘Someone who has dipped his hand into the dish with me, will betray me. The Son of Man is going to his fate, as the scriptures say he will, but alas for that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! Better for that man if he had never been born!’ Judas, who was to betray him; asked in his turn, ‘Not I, Rabbi, surely?’ ‘They are your own words’ answered Jesus.

It is always interesting to read reports of the same event by different Gospel writers. Yesterday, we had this same moment written by John; where John manages to suggest that our failings, as shown by the failings of the apostles, are no barrier to Jesus' love for us. Perhaps this compassion is a lesson learned in maturity by the long lived John.

Matthew is not so forgiving. Judas is held fully responsible for his actions; no visitation by Satan here. Jesus indicates the betrayer as someone who has shared food with him (taken food from him) without the intimacy of being fed by Jesus. And the statement 'better for that man if he had never been born' - a curse and a condemnation from Jesus for whom nothing was beyond forgiveness? Remembering that he was about to give his life for that very belief.

Matthew is so often the angriest of the writers. The followers of the Way were slowly and sometimes violently being edged out of the Temple community. Betrayal within families and friends; people who could not be trusted, the people Saul was involved in before his conversion. And in the fear and desperation of the times - people who would be better if they never existed; according to Matthew.

The differences between Matthew and John are a reminder of the difference between justice and mercy. The 'Matthew' in us would look at those that hurt us and judge them totally responsible for their actions; the 'Matthew' would accuse them of taking advantage of our generosity, of our trust; the 'Matthew' - still in touch with the Law - would expect judgement and retribution.

John, as we saw yesterday, understands in these most dreadful of situations, that we are all capable of terrible things and that, without limit, Jesus will be ever-merciful - it is then up to us to forgive ourselves.
Unfortunately, not always so easy.



Karen Peterson said...

I hate to admit that I've spent a lot of time focusing on the difference in the stories that are shared by Matthew and John, but I've never spent any time exploring the differences in their tone. You've definitely given me something new to consider. Thank you!

Word in the Hand said...

Karen - I have found it more and more interesting to read Gospels together - thank you for your comments. Easter Blessings