Betrayl In the Garden

Betrayal in the Garden

The Garden of Gethsemane is a powerful story.  It appears in all four canonical gospels.  Jesus has to make a choice – a difficult choice.  He could have very easily climbed the Mt. of Olives in the darkness and disappeared into the Judean Wilderness.  Should he save himself and betray his vocation or remain faithful to God’s calling and suffer a horrible fate?  What gives me some hope for my own lack of courage is to see Jesus’ struggle in his hour of trial.  His choice wasn’t a slam dunk.  He struggled.  The Letter to the Hebrews interprets the story this way:  “In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard for his godly fear.  Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered; and being made perfect he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him. . .” (Hebrews 5:7-9)

In Jesus’ prayer, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will,” we can see that the will of Jesus and the will of God were not one and the same.  With struggle Jesus was able to embrace God’s will, but not without struggle.  So maybe there is hope yet for me.

Even as Jesus was struggling with his decision to remain faithful, his closest associates were failing him.  He chose Peter and James and John to keep watch with him, and they all fell asleep — maybe too much wine at the Last Supper.  We can perhaps understand Jesus’ disappointment, if we have ever experienced a sleepless night and a loved one has been unable to stay awake to comfort us in our sleeplessness.  Or perhaps we have experienced the annoyance of a loved one who has been unable to sleep and we could not stay awake with them.  Poor Beth has learned over almost 40 years, once I fall asleep that’s it.

The other major failure of the evening was Judas’ betrayal.  According to the gospels Judas attended the Supper and left early.  Recently some scholars have speculated about the possibility that Jesus wanted Judas to betray him.  If Jesus knew Judas was going to betray him, why not stop him?  Surely the eleven disciples could have overpowered him.  But that would have only worked, if they had killed him, uncharacteristic for Jesus, or tied him up and then escaped.  Escape was possible without tying Judas up, that was the struggle in the Garden.  So why did Jesus permit him to leave the Supper, unless he intended for Judas to betray him?  All of this is in the realm of speculation, and we have only the memories of the disciples for the details of the evening.  And we know how unreliable memory can be.  So we just don’t know.

If Jesus did not put Judas up to betraying him, then we can speculate about motives for Judas.  The early church seems to have settled upon greed as the intention that drove Judas.  It is unclear what coins are spoken of, although later in Matthew, when Judas returns the coins, the Priests, unwilling to return blood money to the Temple Treasury, use the sum to buy a field for the burial of paupers.  So the amount may have been of some value.  Probably the thirty pieces of silver reference Zechariah 11:12-13 intended by Matthew to interpret the Jesus Story to be another fulfillment of Hebrew Scripture.

Another possible motive might have been disillusionment.  Judas was described as a Zealot.  Zealots were First Century Jewish revolutionaries, who were dedicated to trying to drive the Romans out of their homeland.  Perhaps when Jesus failed to initiate a revolution following the Palm Sunday Demonstration, Judas became disillusioned and betrayed him.  Another possibility might be that Judas believed that God would send an army of angels to rescue Jesus, if he were arrested.  Or perhaps Judas believed that the general population would rise up against the Temple authorities and the Romans if they arrested Jesus.  We don’t know.  According to the story Judas led the Temple thugs to the Garden of Gethsemane and in order to make sure they arrested the right person in the darkness he betrayed Jesus ironically with a kiss.  Such drama, it really is an unforgettable story.

Almost all humans who live in community will at one time or another experience betrayal.  Betrayal hurts so much, because it comes to us at the hands of someone we have loved and trusted.  The driving force behind Judas’ betrayal was probably much deeper and more complicated, than simple greed or ambition.  If Judas committed suicide afterward, his betrayal must have haunted him, and ultimately confronted him as a betrayal of himself as well as a friend.  Why do we do it?  What can we do, when we find ourselves betrayed?  What are times when we have betrayed ourselves?  There is so much we can learn in the Garden with Jesus.

Often betrayal grows out of unresolved hurt and anger.  A careless word is spoken.  A relationship grows cold.  A jealousy begins to grow, because we feel displaced.  Someone we counted on doesn’t meet our need.  And from there resentment grows.  The author of the Letter to the Ephesians speaks an important word of wisdom.

“Therefore, putting away falsehood, let everyone speak the truth with your neighbor, for we are members one of another.  Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil.”  (Ephesians 4:25-27)

People do things, things we don’t like, things that hurt us, so we all experience anger in community.  Anger is O.K.  But when anger remains unexpressed and unresolved, it becomes resentment, and resentment forms walls that block relationship.  And when relationship is blocked community breaks down – the fabric of community frays at the edges until it falls apart.  Unresolved hurt and anger lead to betrayal.  Benedict Arnold was passed over for promotion, because other less able officers were advanced for political reasons.  So in retaliation he betrayed his country – straight forward revenge.

Sometimes the hurt and anger that lead to the betrayal of relationships are obvious.  Other times the experiences of hurt and anger that lead us to betray relationships lie buried in our past.  Remember last month, when we talked about Internal Family Systems and our exiled parts or dysfunctional parts that result from memories of being told we were stupid or lazy or inadequate.   Bullying we may have suffered, or abuse from parents, siblings, teachers, peers.  All of those hurts and angers that lie buried below the surface may bubble up, when we least expect them, and trigger a betrayal.  We may find ourselves unintentionally betraying a relationship, because our unconscious baggage propels us to inappropriately act out of our past hurts.

Lyle Schaller, an important church consultant warns pastors, when they come to new parishes that within the first four weeks approximately 20% of the congregation will decide they don’t like the new minister, because he or she looks or sounds like someone from out of their past.  Or the new minister isn’t the old minister, or some beloved pastor from their past.  It has nothing to do with the new minister and everything to do with the emotional baggage people bring with them to the new relationship.

Sometimes the hurts of the past cause us to betray ourselves and our own best interests.  We have been treated to a whole array of ambitious people, many of them politicians, who have betrayed themselves through inappropriate sexual liaisons.  And it is not just American politicians of all parties, but around the world ambitious people, leaders, are often driven to betray relationships out of unmet needs.  They betray themselves through their behavior, because they have never embraced the neediness of their hearts, those little unredeemed corners of their souls.

Living in community is difficult.  Our egos get in the way.  Our feelings get hurt.  We all want to feel special.  We all want our needs acknowledged and met.  But part of living in community is taking turns, sharing, not always having our own way, having to say we’re sorry, allowing other people an opportunity to take the lead, cleaning up our own messes, caring for difficult people, welcoming others who may be very different from ourselves, accommodating other people with different values and sensibilities.  Living in community is difficult.  And the church has been struggling with trying to help people live in community from the beginning.  Look at the disciples at the Last Supper arguing over who was the greatest.  Look at that very naughty church in Corinth, where wealth and privilege asserted itself.  The rich came early to the community potluck supper and there was nothing left for the poor servants and slaves who had to wait until they got off work.  Even to the church in Philippi, a pretty well behaved bunch as early churches went, Paul had to write, “Do nothing from selfishness or conceit, but in humility count others to be as important as yourselves.  Let each one of you look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.

We often think of monks and nuns as somehow more holy or better behaved than people like us, and they do live together.  But after visiting the monastery in Cullman, I was assured sainthood is not any more common among monks and nuns, than it is among the likes of us.  One monk shared, that the problem with living together in the community of a monastery is that every monk’s mother made potatoes differently.  And it is in that difficulty of trying to live together in community that betrayal often occurs. 

What we can learn from Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane is betrayal is not the final word.  God knows we are sinful human beings.  We have trouble living together in community.  We fail one another.  We fail ourselves.  We all have those small unredeemed corners of our souls.  God forgives and loves us.  And through the love of Christ God will redeem us when we betray others, and when we betray ourselves.


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