Maundy Thursday – A Reflection on Betrayal

Today is the day before Good Friday, just over half-way from Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday. A strange day referred to in the traditional Christan calendar as “Maundy Thursday.” Or, as most kids who grew up in church think it’s called: “Monday-Thursday”

It coincides with the traditional celebration of the Seder Supper – the marking of the beginning of the Jewish Passover. The Passover, of course, is the Jewish feast that remembers their people being saved from the plagues which ravaged Egypt when the Jewish people were slaves.

The Christian celebration of the Seder Meal is an observation of a very specific occurrence of the meal that took place with Jesus and his disciples in Jerusalem some 2000 years ago.

Like all observant Jews, Jesus and his apprentices found a place where they could celebrate this meal together. The image that comes to most minds when we hear “The Last Supper” is the iconic Davinci painting, which depicts this setting, immediately after Jesus has told his close friends, that one of them will betray him.

The tradition of washing feet at a Maundy Thursday service also originates from this Last Supper. It’s taken to be a real and tangible way of expressing that kind of serving love. Jesus washed his disciple’s feet that evening at the Seder Supper, and that’s the kind of attitude and behaviour he wants from those who claim to follow him.

Washing Feet – He Qi

Which I suppose circles back to the origin of the name “Maundy”. It’s a shortened form of the Latin ‘mandatum ‘ or ‘command’ – in reference to a command that Jesus gave to his followers that week. Many hold a view of God as a rule-enforcing party-pooper, and his commands as lists of “thou shalt not’s” for things that we enjoy. (this is not unexpected considering the anger and arrogant self-righteousness that over the centuries has been touted as “Christianity.” This command, however, is quite telling of what the followers of Jesus should actually look like.

The Latin translation of the command is: “Mandatum novum do vobis ut diligatis invicem sicut dilexi vos

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another” (John 13:34)

Working sketch by DaVinci – imagining Judas on the other side of the table

It’s that kind of love that is so juxtaposed against the betrayal that is seen on that evening of The Last Supper. Jesus, right there in the middle of the Seder meal, tells his 12 closes apprentices that one of them is going to betray him that very night.

“It is the one to whom I will give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish.” Then, dipping the piece of bread, he gave it to Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot”

Peter, knife in hand, leaning past Judas to speak to John. Judas already has his small purse of money in hand.

Judas, a name we now associate with treason/deceit/treachery was, of course, the one who betrayed him. Judas, who spent several years with Jesus, travelling with him, eating with him, listening to him, working with him, and helping to manage their collective money. Judas heard the words of kindness and forgiveness, saw Jesus give to those who were unkind to him, heal those who didn’t even ask for it, and defend the vulnerable. Jesus who stood up for women, children, widows, orphans, outsiders, foreigners – was now double crossed by someone from inside his inner circle.

Preliminary sketch of Judas for Last Supper

Which is where I feel the sting of betrayal becomes a bit more real this year.

When we found out a couple of days after the attack at our house that a person we thought we could trust, was involved….it stung. Someone who had been with our family since we arrived in Burundi over five years ago, who helped our family, who worked in our house every day, who I practiced my bad Kirundi with, and he tried out rudimentary French & sometimes English. Someone who we tried to help provide for his wife and 4 kids. Someone I had given the benefit of a doubt on several occasions, we had shown grace to, and someone we felt we were generous, kind, and loving to. He was working with the criminals as their inside man and betrayed our family for money. He tipped them off, told them to come while he was in our house, and said he’d make sure the door was unlocked.

That is a lot to take in. Especially when you add it on top of dealing with the physical repercussions, the feeling of lost safety and security, the emotional trauma, the confusion and everything else that goes along with an attack like that. To know that it was, at least in some way, aided by someone inside our house. Someone who knows our family, that sends greetings when I go to visit the kids in Kenya. Someone who knew Susan and the kids would be home at that time. That person intentionally chose to turn on us and at the very least allow that kind of evil to enter our house and cause that kind of damage to us.

To be perfectly honest, i feel like it is the one piece of the whole ordeal that I still haven’t been able to process.

Which of course circles back to the Last Supper.

an early study drawing by DaVinci for what would become The Last Supper

Jesus was very clear that we are to love our enemies – that his command to love others applies not just to those I find easy to get along with, but everyone. That I should love my family members, but also those who betrayed my family and endangered the very lives of my family. Of course, this does not mean there are no consequences for action. This man would never work in our house again. It would take years to regain any semblance of trust – if ever. Forgiveness and love don’t’ mean we blindly ignore reality, and endanger people for the sake of ‘being nice.’

Sorry, but this post does not wrap up in a neat way, with my experiences serving as a clear illustration for a life lesson. I’m sure it does…I”m just not there yet. But here are three thoughts:

  1. I can’t judge people’s motives by their actions. Did he do what he did because of pure, evil malice, or did the criminals search him out and threaten his family if he didn’t help them? Did he come up with the plan, or was he forced to go along and promised no one would get hurt? Those feel like two very different things, and I will never know. It’s way easier to jump to judgement of a person than to accept how nuanced we all are.
  2. I am guilty of betraying Jesus in so many ways over the years of my life that it’s probably helpful for me to have some small sense of what it feels like to be on the other side. Susan suggested I put up a blog post on this as she pointed out this is really the first time we’ve felt this kind of direct, intentional betrayal.
  3. The Seder Supper leads directly into ‘Good Friday’ – the day we remember Jesus’ death. Jesus’ compassion and concern for people like Judas are essentially what got him killed. His claim to be the Son of God was directly tied to the way he treated those around him. He washed Judas’ feet, served him supper, and offered him friendship that very night. That mandatum novum he gave was to love others in the very same way. That’s not fluffy, feel-good ‘love’ – that’s the kind of action that can and will cause you pain. If we put ourselves out there – if we offer kindness, and grace, and forgiveness to others – there are times it will hurt. I don’t think that means we’re doing it wrong – I think sometimes loving others will hurt us – and that’s just the way it is. That’s not masochistic, or self-punishment, it’s simply the reality of the world we live in. This world has pain and sorrow, it has brokenness, sadness and sickness. If we engage fully, we will shoulder some of that, some of that will get wiped on us, and some will be thrown at us. The only way to try to avoid getting hurt by others is to never engage with others. That’s not a price worth paying.

top image: The Last Supper – Andy Warhol 1986