I gave the message this past Sunday on the rich passage of John 13. It was entitled “Loyalty Tests and Dirty Feet” (you can listen/watch it here) and it’s the familiar scene of Jesus washing the feet of his disciples during their meal on the week of Passover. This is the night where he gives the “Farewell Discourse” (John 13-17) and shortly after will be praying in the garden where he will be arrested. This is the night that Peter will deny Jesus three times, the other disciples will also disappear and this is the night that Judas will forever be known as the betrayer of Jesus.
As you read the Gospels, Jesus keeps trying to prepare the disciples that this is coming. But it’s unimaginable to them. They know Jesus is a “spiritual guy” but they cannot get past the idea that this Kingdom he keeps talking about is not an earthy kingdom. I mean, who wants a spiritual kingdom?
One of the moments that has gripped me is after Jesus washes the disciples’ feet, he tells them that one of them is going to betray him. I tried to recreate this moment in my sermon but in short, I find it very telling that they all simultaneously did not look at Judas and say, “Yep, we knew it!” In fact, it’s on this side of this beautiful moment that they find it so unimaginable that anyone of them could possible betray their Lord and rabbi, Jesus.
They are so baffled and confused that Matthew records that they wonder out loud if the betrayer is actually them. I am stunned by what must be in their inner-monologue, “I simply cannot imagine it would be any of these men, wait, that leaves me! Is it me??” Finally one of the disciples asks Jesus who it is and he says, “It’s the one I give this piece of bread to.”
This is not the extra dinner roll from Bertucci’s that your waiter keeps running back for more. Instead, this piece of bread is believed to be a moment of honor, when you give a choice piece to a guest of honor and so Jesus gives this piece to Judas. You would think in this moment that the disciples would rise up from the table and either, literally beat the devil out of Judas, or lay hands on him til this demon of betrayal be released. But instead, John records they don’t really understand. My best guess is they were so used to Jesus not answering the question directly that when Jesus honors Judas with the symbolic gesture of the bread that they assume he’s continuing with the foot- washing moment. The text even when Jesus tells Judas to leave and get it done quickly that the disciples thought Judas was either going to give money to the poor (a Passover feast tradition) or run an errand.
What is going on in Judas’ mind as he gets up from the table with a full stomach, the honored piece of bread, and clean feet? And many of us are wondering, “WHY DOES JUDAS TAKE THE BREAD??” I’d like to think if Jesus was going to hand the bread to me in such a moment that I would outright refuse and take on the tone of Peter, “No Jesus, there must be some mistake!” So why does Judas take the bread?
It’s been helpful for me to back up to when Peter initially refuses to allow Jesus wash his feet. When Jesus tells him that if he doesn’t he can’t have any part of him, Jesus is not bullying Peter but rather talking alluding to this present physical and present spiritual kingdom. What John wants us to see here is that through foot washing, through serving, Jesus is uniting the believer with him. To have Jesus wash one’s feet is to receive from Jesus the act of hospitality, to receive his friendship, to receive his work of salvation. Peter has a choice to receive this moment. And similarly, Judas has a choice to receive this bread.
Earlier I asked, who wants a spiritual kingdom? If by spiritual, we simply mean make believe or merely some magical place that we might go after we die sort of thing then I’m going to have to hedge my bets or pass all together when it comes to this. But this is part of the beauty of Jesus’ message. When Jesus speaks of the Kingdom, it’s now and present tense. In Jesus, the spiritual meets what I could only call the actual. In Jesus, the spiritual becomes real. Which frankly to me is life-changing, breaking news. (For more, I invite you to consider reading Simply Jesus by N.T. Wright for Lent.)
Judas is often described as some weasel type of guy but it’s entirely possible to me that he understands more what Jesus means by His kingdom than the other disciples. When Judas opens his hand and receives the bread that Jesus gives him, I offer that perhaps he knows very much what he is doing in the immediate sense – Judas is willfully rejecting Jesus’ kingdom, willfully rejecting the symbolic and spiritual expressions of what was done in the foot washing, he’s intentionally rejecting Jesus’ friendship, hospitality, and his salvation. Instead he chooses to receive the type of honor that only this world can give.