By Howard Gregory
A Reading from the Gospel of Matthew 26:17-25
17 On the first day of Unleavened Bread the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Where do you want us to make the preparations for you to eat the Passover?” 18 He said, “Go into the city to a certain man, and say to him, ‘The Teacher says, My time is near; I will keep the Passover at your house with my disciples.’” 19 So the disciples did as Jesus had directed them, and they prepared the Passover meal.
20 When it was evening, he took his place with the twelve;[c] 21 and while they were eating, he said, “Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me.” 22 And they became greatly distressed and began to say to him one after another, “Surely not I, Lord?” 23 He answered, “The one who has dipped his hand into the bowl with me will betray me. 24 The Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that one by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that one not to have been born.” 25 Judas, who betrayed him, said, “Surely not I, Rabbi?” He replied, “You have said so.”
Within most cultures a meal is perhaps the most important moment of sharing and intimacy within the life of a family. To be invited to share in the hospitality of such an event is a privilege and a sign of friendship, acceptance, and respect.
The meal which is featured in the reading for today, though communal, was no ordinary meal. It was of great significance, recalling the events surrounding the deliverance of the children of Israel from bondage in Egypt and pointing to a new experience of liberation for the people of God.
This meal was also, for Jesus, his last meal with his most intimate friends. We probably can recall the impending departure of a family member, and the family gathering to mark this moment with a special farewell meal, filled with anticipation, anxiety, and grief. This meal was to be more than a farewell moment, but one in which Jesus would inaugurate that sacrament which would forever share his suffering, death, presence with his disciples.
But the dynamics present at this holy meal are at variance with the intention of the host. A conspiracy brews. Jesus is able to discern what is happening and says that one of the company will betray him.
While it is easy for us to be dismissive of Judas, he is a constant reminder of the humanity of the community of faith with all the potential for good and for ill. We may share hospitality or break it. There are those who may find it impossible to complete the journey with the community of faith and her Lord. Self-interest may be the overriding principle. They may stay for awhile and work harm; they may simply leave the meal.
The community of faith faces vulnerabilities from without and within. Infiltration and betrayal played a part in the persecution experienced by the early Church and was the basis for suspicion regarding the authenticity of Saul-turned-Paul and his acceptance as a member of the community of faith. In spite of this, God still delivers, and the Church of God survives.
The Most Rev. Howard K. Gregory is Bishop of Jamaica and the Cayman Islands and Archbishop of the West Indies.
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Daily Devotional Cycle of Prayer
Today we pray for:
St. Michael and All Angels Episcopal Church, Tucson, Ariz.
The Diocese of Upper South Carolina