Now the betrayer had given them a sign, saying, “The one I will kiss is the man; arrest him.” At once he came up to Jesus and said, “Greetings, Rabbi!” and kissed him. “Jesus said to him, “Friend, do what you are here to do.” Matthew 26:48-49
by Trygve Johnson
The way of Jesus is a journey into our deepest pain. But it’s only by going into the pain, that Jesus can heal and make us whole again.
Otto Dix invites us to explore Jesus’s pain, and ours, in this sketch of The Arrest of Jesus. Jesus is in the Garden of Gethsemane. The answer to Jesus’s pleading prayer is an angry mob mixed with soldiers and religious leaders. The crowd in search of Jesus is armed with knives, swords, and clubs. The background is in a motion that depicts confusion. This confusion highlights the clarity of what Dix wants us to see. What centers the eye is Judas, with arms wrapped around Jesus, as he kisses him on the cheek. This is the kiss that identifies Jesus to the authorities. This is the kiss where Jesus’s great suffering begins.
Jesus looks sad. In Matthew, Judas is described simply as “The betrayer”. A betrayer is a traitor, a double-crosser, a rat, a mole, an informer, a quisling, a turn-coat, a defector. But those terms don’t capture the depth of the relational sadness. Judas is Jesus’s friend. Jesus’s march to the cross begins when a trusted friend betrays his love.
Why did Judas betray Jesus? Scripture does not say with clarity. Maybe that is intentional. But after three years of traveling with Jesus, it is safe to say that Judas and Jesus would have been close. Maybe Judas was jealous of someone he felt Jesus liked more? He felt snubbed, or disrespected, as John or Peter got more attention? Maybe Judas joined up because he wanted Jesus to be more political – to be a zealot – start a military coup that would usher in the revolution of a new epoch for Israel? Or maybe, Judas was interested in the money, and Jesus was simply the means to a profitable pay day? We don’t know the motive. But what we do know is that Judas betrays Jesus – his friend.
Judas’s kiss must have stung. The shame and self-doubt of a friend you trusted throwing your trust in your face is painful. Friendship is one of the great gifts of life – which is why betrayal of a friend is one of the hardest losses to experience and recover from.
Jesus’s journey to the cross begins with the sorrow of relational infidelity. Maybe you can resonate? Maybe you feel betrayed by someone you trusted? Maybe it is with a friend, or a colleague, or even a spouse? Maybe it is someone sitting in a pew near you, someone with whom you are asked to share “the peace of Christ”? Someone you know, maybe love, has broken your trust. The sadness is real. You are not imagining it. Neither is Jesus. We see it on his face.
What Dix’s picture makes me reflect upon, more personally, is how easy it is to hug Jesus and at the same time betray him. I wonder if in some way we are all Judas. We all sell Jesus out. In what we do and what we don’t do. In what we say and what we don’t say. When Jesus does not fit what we want him to be or do, we turn away from him. Isn’t this why we need a confession in worship? We need to confess that we have broken fidelity with this Jesus who we have been following.
Maybe the point of Jesus’s journey to the cross is that we are all Judas. We have all betrayed him. And yet, what is moving is that Jesus does not betray Judas – or us. Even after the kiss of betrayal, Jesus calls Judas a “friend.” He turns the cheek. He does not answer violence with violence. He walks not one mile but two miles – all the way to the cross. That is the power of the grace of Jesus the Christ.
So as you go into worship this morning, remember that you go with Jesus who does not betray you nor forsake you. Let God’s fidelity reframe any broken trust you may be suffering, and journey with Jesus into your deep pain, and then allow Jesus’s grace to transform the brokenness of betrayal into a reconciled relationship with the Eternal God. Amen.
Trygve Johnson is Dean of the chapel at Hope College in Holland, Michigan.