THE PASSION SUNDAY, APRIL 9, 2017
FRIENDSHIP VERSUS BETRAYAL IN A BRAZEN MEDIA CULTURE
The loudest chant in the passion narrative was, “Crucify him” (Matt.27:22-23). Even when the pretentious Pilate struggled to verify the offence of Jesus, the crowd shouted the louder, “Let him be crucified”. The hatred was obvious. His executioners were bent on killing him; they preferred notorious Barabbas to Christ. As I read through Matthew’s narrative of the passion, I baffled at the concept of friendship. The sanctity of friendship was completely violated. Who were the friends of Jesus, and where were they? The women featured merely at the end of the crucifixion story. They were helpless, and “looked from a distance… (Matt.27:55). And Joseph of Arimathea? The bible described him as “a rich man from Arimathea who was himself a disciple of Jesus” (Matt.27:57). Joseph only asked for the body of his friend after he died.
A friend is someone who can be trusted, someone close. A friend is one who shares pains and joys with another. The dictionary defines friend as a person attached to another by feelings of affection or personal regard; a person who is on good terms with another; a person who is not hostile. A friend is a person who gives assistance; a patron; supporter. For Jesus, his disciples can be described as first in the category of his friends. He shared ministry with them. He calmed the storm for them. He fed them. He cared for their families and visited their homes. For instance, he cured Simon’s mother in-law. The mother of James and John came to him. Jesus said to the disciples, “I do not call you servants anymore; I call you friends because I have made known to you everything I have learnt from my Father” (Jn.15:15). He brought the disciples into his personal space and confided in them. Jesus ate from the same pot with them. He told them, “He who has dipped his hand into the dish with me is the one who will betray me” (Matt.26:23).
One might argue that Jesus was destined to die, and that Judas was destined to be the traitor to fulfill the scriptures. That’s correct. But the friends of Jesus didn’t make sufficient efforts to support him. As he went up to the Gethsemane to pray, their attitude was passive. His closest associates, Peter, James and John were already tired even as he expressed his feelings to them, “My soul is sorrowful even to death” (Matt.26:38). Scripture says, “When he returned to his disciples he found them asleep. He said to Peter, ‘So you could not keep watch with me for one hour? …Then he returned to his disciples and said to them, ‘Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? …Get up, let us go. Look, my betrayer is at hand” (2640-46).
Peter was the captain of the Jesus’ team. He made fearful efforts to follow Jesus and to defend him. He expressed desire to stand with Jesus when he said, “Though all may have their faith in you shaken, mine will never be” (Matt.26:33). Peter tried initially to fight for his master by slaying the servant’s ear but when the chips were down, he couldn’t stand the pressure. Thrice he denied Jesus, and for the third time, “Peter began to curse and to swear, ‘I do not know the man” (26:74).
Judas’ betrayal of Jesus was premeditated. Deceitfully, he asked Jesus, like the other apostles, “Surely, it is not I, Rabbi?” (Matt.26:25). At the betrayal scene, the plans which Judas made with the enemies of Jesus became clear. According to the scriptures, “His betrayer had arranged a sign with them saying, ‘The man I shall kiss is the one, arrest him” (26:48). Meanwhile, Jesus’ reaction explained the relationship effectively. As Judas kissed him, Jesus said to him, “Friend, do what you have come for” (26:50). Jesus saw Judas as his friend but his friend betrayed him.
The people on their part, were also beneficiaries of Jesus. He healed their blind, lame, deaf, mute. Jesus cast out demons from their possessed. He even raised their dead. Jesus fed them with physical food. He took care of them at crucial moments. Those acts of friendship didn’t make much difference to them since they were determined to kill him. The evangelist John writes, “The Jews fetched stones to stone him, so Jesus said to them, ‘I have shown you many good works from my Father; for which of these are you stoning me?’” Their response was, “We are stoning you, not for doing a good work, but for blasphemy…” (Jn.10:31-32). It is like saying, we are not interested in any of the good works you did, all we know is that we are going to kill you.
Betrayal is a very bitter experience not even when it comes from a friend. The Psalmist says, “If an enemy were insulting me, I could endure it; if a foe were rising against me, I could hide. But it is you, a man like myself, my companion, my close friend, with whom I once enjoyed sweet fellowship” (Ps.55:12-14). According to the prophet Jeremiah, “All those who used to be my friends watched for my downfall” (Jer.20:10). Betrayal means giving someone away falsely. It is covered in pretext. In Shakespeare’ s Macbeth, King Duncan trusted Macbeth, his brave and dependable soldier. But Macbeth betrayed and murdered Duncan and became the miserable king of Scotland. In the tragic story of Julius Caesar, Brutus, Caesar’s most trusted and reliable friend was the last of the conspirators to stab Caesar to death. His happiness was hindered for the rest of his life. And for Judas, his life ended as soon as he touched the blood money.
Betrayal happens among friends. It happens among families as well as colleagues, and for several reasons-money, envy, lies, possession, etc. In the era of social media, betrayal has taken a different and somewhat easy fashion. Friends give away friends on Facebook, text message, twitter, email and phone calls. Friends leak secrets entrusted to them by their friends. Friends connive for reasons of money and give away valuable relationships. That is what Judas did. The social media sometimes takes away the emotional attachments and component of friendship. In that sense, people get fixated on their phones and electronic gadgets. They feel nothing for their friends. Judas hung around Jesus but felt nothing for him. Family members interact more with their phones than with their siblings. They are physically present but emotionally removed, so they get attached more to their electronics. People set their close ones up for kidnap, assassination and armed robbery through social media. They pretend.
Like Judas, friends give false kisses, eat with and smile at their friends. They click “like” on Facebook even when they dislike. They click because they want to participate on Facebook, want the friend to see them. Wives give away vital information about husbands on social media. Husbands volunteer vital, confidential information regarding their families. Children give away parents on social media. Close friends betray friends on social media. The passion reminds us of the criminal effects of betrayal. Judas betrayed Jesus, and we condemn him. He had remorse but couldn’t reverse the situation. We might regret what we put on the social media, but the deed is done. If you betray your friend, you live with regrets all your life. If you give away vital information, it torments you perpetually. Let us reflect on betrayal and the sanctity of friendship in our world that lives and breathes on the social media. What do you say about your friend? Where is the emphasis in your friendship? Does it matter to you that someone is hurt when you put out a negative word out there? When we betray others, we betray love. When we betray others, we betray Christ. When we betray others, we act like Judas.