This is the human part of the story. There is nothing divine in being betrayed by a friend, denied by your pupil, or deserted by your companions. Jesus now knows the exposed, intimate hurt betrayal brings. All of a sudden everyone knows his friendship with Judas isn’t what they thought. There is a force as strong as love at work. But bold Peter goes for a softer version. He chooses the whitest of lies; a disownment where the one being denied didn’t even have to be present for it to occur. Who will ever know? By this action he said their whole history was worth erasing, pretending all the miles walked together, bread broken, lessons taught, never happened. And the rest of his companions give into the base instinct born of fear, and flee for their lives. The real forces of power and danger have arrived and no one knows how it will end. Not even Jesus is worth waiting around for.
Not only did he have to undergo physical pain, Jesus was forced to undergo the worst of human emotions because of his closest friends. I look at the 3 different ways in which the disciples abandoned Jesus and wonder why we think Judas’ was the worst. Jesus was troubled in spirit and the disciples wonder who the guilty one is. Jesus had even called Peter Satan just a short time ago – was that why he was so anxious to know the guilty party? Did he know what he was capable of? Did they all know, deep inside, what they were capable of?
Jesus was betrayed, denied, and deserted by the men he had called and chosen to be his own. They spent 3 years watching him be rejected by his family and friends, hated by the leaders, and abandoned by the crowds. And yet when their moment of decision comes, it’s the same as everyone else. It’s too much, too dangerous. Does it matter how we forsake people? Does it matter why we leave them in their deepest need? The disciples left Jesus, but they didn’t leave him completely alone. They didn’t abandon him to the wilderness, or to wild animals hiding in the mountains. They left him to something more insidious – they abandoned him to the system.
It’s an indescribable loneliness to be abandoned by society, by your family, deserted by the ones supposed to love you the most. It is a hot-faced humiliation to realize people will do whatever it takes, no matter how malicious, to have nothing to do with you. It is embarrassing to be rejected by your community. There is so much vulnerability in being alone.
When the system takes over, you are at the mercy of impersonal forces. No wonder Jesus was grieved and agitated. He spent 3 years talking to people beaten down by the system, 3 years preaching about a different way of life, and now he was going to be subject to that same degradation. He spent 3 years investing in a small group of people. 3 years. Of course the disciples protested the idea that they could be deserters.
And we deny because we’re afraid we’ll have to die, too. It’s not personal, it’s just business. It’s not you Jesus, it’s the Pharisees, the Sadducees, the Romans. It’s the pastor, the elders, and the board. It’s the city council, the bills that have to be paid, and the kids’ extra-curriculars; and there are so many ways – so many legitimate ways – to abandon people.
We can’t forget that Jesus was turned over to a civilized society; he was not executed in the woods. He was inserted into the justice system, and the system worked. Reliable witnesses were sought and waited on. The governing authorities were called and used. Jesus was betrayed and abandoned to a legitimate religious and civil system. And all these years later, we are no different than the disciples. We’ve created and maintained a society where it is so easy to hide our eyes from systemic injustices. So easy to run away in the dark so no one sees, no one knows all the things we ought to have done, and left undone. We can easily live in a world where we are able to ignore the reality of life for the deserted.
When there is no safety net and your community has abandoned you, now what? What is there to say about being betrayed, denied, deserted? People who were supposed to be safe, aren’t. The world has become tumbled. Is it worth investing in people if they leave you at your most critical hour? The disciples were so confident in their ability to remain loyal, so sure of their friendship. We are so arrogant in our ability to be good, so sure of our rightness. We are so positive we are good for the world, so certain of our ability to take care of each other.
We deny that we are deniers. We conveniently ignore how easy it is to leave. It is so much easier to abandon than it is to stay and face guilt by association. There are so many ways of turning people over to the systems, over to the paperwork, to the unforgiving laws. It is so easy to assume the social programs are enough to fill the need. So easy to stand back and say ‘let God save you’.
Our ideals are so tenuous, our motivations so mixed. The weight of humanity sits so heavy on us, the glorious weight too big a burden for our confidence. And yet we are convinced we can stand up under it. We insist that our loyalty – that our love – is stronger than our fears.
But an abandoned world begs to differ.