Betrayals and denials Chris Collins
Deep in Johns account of the Passion is the question placed on Pilate’s lips: ‘What is truth?’ Like all the many details in John’s Gospel, the writer wants us to ponder on this question – it is not a throw-away comment put in to pad out the narrative.
‘Lo my betrayer is at hand’, says Jesus in the Garden immediately before his arrest, and we may believe that he was referring to Judas. But John, like the other Gospel writers, shows that the circle of suspects is far wider. At its root, betrayal is a negation of truth, and there are not a few -all of whom we can easily identify with – who are guilty of this sin.
Judas and Peter
There is most obviously Judas, who betrays his three-year friendship with Jesus. Whatever the motives, Judas worked against the integrity of Jesus’ mission. We too, though not perhaps guilty of such blatant greed, are guilty often of trying to force God’s hand, or blackmailing him into some action or other. If we are disappointed at our lot, or at the apparent lack of success of our prayers, we are with Judas, traitors to the truth.
Then there is Peter’s denial, by any description a betrayal of trust. He might have had good reasons for being prudent about his relationship with Jesus, but it is no excuse for downright deceit. All that brave talk about dying with Jesus the night before was vacuous hot air.
How easy it is for us to fall to Peter’s sin of betrayal. Our sense of duty is easily watered down by the circumstances of the moment, and we prove to be betrayers of the truth.
Pilate and the crowd
Pilate washed his hands of the whole affair; he knew Jesus was innocent. Jesus was not the first to be treated with arbitrary justice, and he would not be the last. But that does not let Pilate off the hook. If in his judgement Jesus was innocent, to send him to execution was a betrayal of his own integrity. We too excuse our lapses of honesty by minimizing the importance of an issue. But it is still a betrayal of our own standards of decency.
The crowd betrayed their feelings for Jesus. They were, like any crowd, easily influenced by vociferous agitators. How easily we too can be led astray. Do we take the easy route and allow the press to influence our views, or do we take each issue separately and think for ourselves? If we don’t, we are with the crowd, betraying ourselves and our Lord.
‘What is truth?’ Somewhere in the answer, betrayal plays its part. Betrayal is always denial of the truth. John plants his clues and the truth seems always to have Jesus at its heart. Pilate would have been better asking ‘Who is truth?’ for the answer to that is undoubtedly Jesus.
Because Truth stood there and took all this, we can be sure that despite our actions he will always be true to those who are his own. He died as Truth in order that we can be sure of his faithfulness to us. For John, the Passion story is not written to evince our sympathy, but to reassure us that God is for us. And so Jesus’ life ends in John’s Gospel with the victory cry: ‘It is accomplished.’