You Just Might Find, You Get What You Need
By Charles Rush
March 20, 2005
Matthew 26: 14-27
read recently the results of a survey done on things Americans would be willing to do for $10 Million. 25% of those surveyed said they would be willing to abandon their entire family. 23% said they would become prostitutes for a week or more. 16% would give up their American citizenship. 16% would leave their spouse… [That one doesn't entirely surprise me… I think Kate would take 3 million and run]. 10% would withhold testimony, letting a murderer go free. 7% would kill a stranger. 3% would put their children up for adoption. And here's what I found even more interesting, only 1% of those surveyed said they would be willing to practice law… And only 1/2 of 1% would be willing to do investment banking for a career. Okay, I made the last part up for Cary Hardy, Dennis Bushe, Steve Jones, Jim Love and all the other scoundrels that are gathered this morning with their halo's on. Prostitution, maybe, sell my kids possibly… but investment banking… there are depths of betrayal and conscience I'm not willing to plumb.
Our text this morning ends with a
powerful pathos to it. It is one of those lines whose meaning is completely
determined by the intonation of the delivery. It could have been sneering.
"See my betrayer is at hand."
It could have surprised. "See, my
betrayer is at hand."
It could have been resigned and
impassive, "See my betrayer is at hand."
Personally, I think it was one of
surprise, penetrating insight and humanity. "My betrayer is at hand."
It didn't take prophetic insight for Jesus to know that he was in danger of his
life. It didn't take prophetic insight for Jesus to know that plots and
intrigues were roiling around him, quite out of his control. But sometimes,
especially when you are in the middle of a controlled maelstrom, you know but
you don't entirely know until these things take shape. And then there is that
moment of recognition and it all falls into place. He didn't entirely know, but
he wasn't entirely surprised, and it is a betrayal by a close friend and he
calls it that. But I think he spoke it in a warm, intimate, human way- a way
that Judas picked up on as a plaintive 'why?' spoken from a friend. He did it
in a way that ended up haunting Judas.
You know, one of the more pernicious
scenes from Mel Gibson's 'The Passion' features Judas being haunted after his
betrayal of Jesus. In the movie, the director adds a scene not in the bible
story. Judas is fleeing with his money when he sees some Jewish children who
morph into demons and these demons scare the living fire out of Judas and he
hangs himself to be rid of them. Not surprisingly, Jewish leaders were not real
thrilled about seeing Jewish children turn into demons. It may not be overtly
Anti-semitic but it is at least in poor taste and frankly it is one of many
dangerous images that Mr. Gibson never seemed to get.
speaking, it is not nearly as powerful
to blame betrayal on demonic beings that infiltrate us and make us do things
against our will as it is to simply portray the very human dimension of
betrayal when the people closest to us misunderstand us and actually do things
that cause us harm. There is nothing more deafening or damning than the
penetrating eyes of someone we know well and love looking at us with that
genuine "I'm so disappointed in you."
You may recall a few years ago, East
Germans won the right to open the Stasi files and discover the secret agents
with all of their clandestine reports. After a life time of being secretly
watched and having intimate conversations reported to the authorities, people
just wanted to know once and for all who was doing what. Just who were those
secret police that were betraying us?
One Protestant Minister that suffered
from depression discovered that his psychiatrist was not in fact a psychiatrist
but all along was a member of the Stasi who had been giving him prescriptions
designed to traumatize him emotionally.
He even learned that his psychiatrist
had sent women to seduce him so they could take pictures and compromise his
authority as a pastor and when that didn't work, they sent young men for the
Then there was one young man that had
attempted an escape to the West which was foiled. Who was it that informed on
his escape attempt? His father.
Finally, one woman, a vocal dissident
in East Germany who later became a member of Parliament, found out that the
reason the Stasi were so expert at tracking her every move was that the agent
in charge of her case was… her husband.
At the height of Soviet Union, you
never knew who you could trust. The secret police seemed to be everywhere and
could crawl out of the woodwork to carry you away at any time. Of all the deep
impressions left by my travels in college, surely being slammed to the street
in Sophia, Bulgaria after midnight by the Stasi, arm behind my back with a boot
grinding my face into the pavement, stands out. The smell of Vodka, sour
potatoes, onions, and cigarettes as he yelled a few times, 'This Bulgaria, this
not America'. It was a Warren Zevon moment- 'Send Lawyers, Guns and Money… Dad
get me out of this'. And then they were gone, just disappeared as fast as they
came. Just to let you know that they were watching, always watching. I remember standing up, looking around,
doors just shut, blinds were pulled, walkers disappeared down side streets… no
one would get involved. Like Sargent Schultz from the TV show years ago,
"I see nothing, I hear nothing, I know nothing." It is a stifling
lonliness in the face of arbitrary and wanton power.
As Solzhenitsyn so vividly described
in those years, the heart of the society was the concentration camp and the
fear that it engendered. People were most afraid of those that could betray
them and those that could betray them were the very people closest to them, so
all of your life was an effort to develop a studied distance from everyone, to
be intimate with no one, so there could be no effective betrayal. You stayed
alive, but at the cost of your humanity, your warmth, you joie d' vivre. It
atomized society and made everyone, whether they wanted to be or not, directly
related to the Leader, out of fear. Awful world.
Jesus was such a different kind of
leader. He didn't negatively motivate people out of fear. He used love and
compassion. He had a charisma that people wanted to be around. Even Roman
historians of the time noted that he attracted huge crowds because he had a
heart for ordinary people and their ordinary ills and problems. He reached out
to them. He let them touch him.
He had a transcendent power about him
that must have been the case. He healed people. He encouraged people. He
inspired people. When they were around him, they just felt better. Remember the
wonderful movie many years ago, 'Cocoon' about Aliens that come to Florida and
run into a bunch of 70 year old retired guys who have just lost some of their
edge. Just by touching the aliens, suddenly these retired guys get that snap,
crackle and pop back in their lives. Their youthful zeal returns. They start
pulling pranks like they were in college. They become crunchy vegetables again.
They start romancing their wives. They are full of energy. They got a shot of the life-force from the Aliens. I think Jesus
must have been like that. He gave people a shot of the life force and they just
flocked to him because of it. They felt better; they felt healed.
And they projected on to him all of
their hopes and dreams over the course of time. If he could heal people, if he
could make them feel better, if he was as wise as he sounds, then he must be
able to… fill in the blank. They projected on to him the fulfillment of their
Most scholars now believe that Judas'
motivation for betraying Jesus fell in those parameters. They think he was
probably influenced by the zealots in the country, if not secretly one himself.
The Zealots were a political faction in Palestine. They were looking for a
restoration of the throne of David. They wanted the Messiah to throw off the
hated Romans and take control of their destiny again. They wanted no more,
though no less from the Messiah. Most scholars hypothesize that Judas set up
this confrontation believing that Jesus would once and for all show his true
colors, start a revolution, suddenly find his fighting aura, and begin the
process that would lead to Jewish independence again. His betrayal was really a
provocation, a kind of jump start to the new Messianic era. What was tragic
about it is the fact that he misunderstood what Jesus was about and he caused
him harm because of it.
this is the point, for we are all Judas at the end of the day.
We all project our own wish list upon the Almighty. We all ask the wrong things
of the Messiah and betray what God wants to do in our lives in the process.
A surprising number of us only check
in with the Almighty when we need a big favor. It starts early, usually when we
are students. My friend James Dunn used to say that we don't need any formal
school prayer to start the day and keep us on the right track. "As
long as we have tests, we will have prayer in public schools." We
go to the Almighty for the big favor in the jam. Just before the big game, to
play our best, and possibly a curse on the other team… That Rhoda Ginsburg will
say yes to a date… For the acceptance letter to Hopkins… For an interview with
the Firm… so that the Cop will let me go without a breathalyzer… And mixed in
there are more sublime appeals… for a vision of the future that has substance…
for healing for a disease that is quite serious… for the victims of a
We project on to God the role of the
big Man that can help us out of our crises, the great Oz that has the power to
supercede normal boundaries and suspend natural law and causation. There is
nothing the least wrong with this. And I intentionally mix up the sublime and
the banal in our requests for there is something quintessentially human
that looks to God to solve things at once profound and pedestrian. And
if you look back at the long history of temples, healing centers, and sift
through ancient sites across the globe, it appears that humans have been
petitioning God in this way since before we started leaving artifacts behind to
confirm it. No, there is something quintessentially human in our desire to ask
God, to project our needs out into the cosmos.
But if the story of Jesus is any
guide, this does not begin to exhaust our relationship with the Almighty.
Jesus, too, asks God to be relieved of his burden. The scripture only has him
saying plaintively, "Let this cup pass from me." We
are told that he went to pray 3 times and the third time, he sweated blood. That means he prayed as hard as we humans can
pray. We can presume that he was asking to be spared injustice. We can presume
that he didn't want to be tortured. We can presume that, like all young people,
he didn't want to die.
But Jesus doesn't get any special
treatment. The laws of nature are not suspended. The boundaries of Imperial
power are not to be superceded. No… what actually happens is that Jesus'
friends betray; Political leaders are inordinately swayed by back room lobbies;
the crowd incites a riot; injustice in the service of control is the order of
the day; violence and cruelty are impersonally meted out. In short, the
world as we know it carries on as usual and Jesus dies.
One of the implications of this story
is this. In our relationship with the Almighty- It is not about how God can
change the world for us, it is about how God can change us for the
world. We keep hoping that we will be exempted from the rigors and challenges
of life, but we know that ultimately we must face suffering and death. We don't
get to be exempted from it. And ultimately speaking, it far better to be
spiritually whole enough to deal with it than it is to avoid it.
God wants us to develop a meaning and
a purpose for our lives that can transcend the onslaught of frustration,
hardship, and injustice. God wants us to become people of substantial character
such that we are not thrown off by the betrayal of others and the compromised
ethic of the leaders that surround us. God wants us to develop a warm humanity
that is a spiritual antidote to impersonal ridicule and torture. God wants us
to develop the courage of our convictions such that we can endure the jeers of
seemingly our whole known world and we feel like we are all alone.
God wants us to become strong in our
love and long in our compassion. God wants us to break the cycle of retribution
and be big enough to return evil with good. God wants us to be in this world
but not so much of this world that we cannot shed ourselves of the comforts and
pleasures that this world offers in order to take on the more difficult way,
the way of conflict and trouble, if we have to do it because that is the right thing to do.
God wants us to keep faith and hope
when those around us are afraid, tired, and weak. God wants us to find an inner
peace in who we are and what we are about such that we can radiate equanimity
when chaos storms all around us.
God wants us to be rounded and whole
that we are up to the challenge of whatever the world throws at us. As we
become more mature, God wants us to become changed, to grow, to become
And that is the point of the Spiritual
Life. God wants to change you. Ultimately speaking, the spiritual life is not
about saying these prayers; it is not about reciting that religious creed; it
is not about doing this religious ritual or following that time honored
tradition. These are only guides, important guides perhaps, but only guides.
The hardest part of the spiritual life and the part that none of us gets to
avoid, is allowing ourselves to spiritually mature and grow. It is letting God
Jesus prays and prays at the end of
his life. He lays out his hopes, his dreams, his worries, and his fears, but at
the end of the prayer he says, "Not my will but Thine." We can lay
out our wish list…. This is what I'd like… But ultimately all of that is minor compared to being able to really say and
live "Not my will but Thine." Mold me, shape me; cleanse me, heal
That is my hope for you this Easter
season… Before the crisis comes, before the serious challenge arises, you can
say to yourself, when no one is around, "Spirit of the Living God. Fall
fresh on me." You are going to be okay… May God bless you and stand you
 From James Patterson and Peter Kim in The
Day America Told the Truth cited in Dynamic Preaching, vol. 20, no. 1, p.
 Ibid. p. 79
from Chuck Colson's A Dance with Deception.
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