“The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again.” So Jesus tells his disciples, foretelling of his own death and resurrection. The Gospel of Mark contains a few very interesting themes, like the hidden identity of Jesus and the powers of this world like sin, depression and sickness that we are incapable of overcoming ourselves. And these themes work closely alongside each other as Jesus’ identity and future, and our own inability to save ourselves are revealed bit by bit. In today’s reading a lot is revealed in Jesus’ use of the word betrayal and how that word gives us an insight into not only why he died, but for whom he died.
It’s true that our deepest and most valued relationships are built on trust; the trust that someone will keep their word, or keep their vows or do what they can to love and protect you. The trust that we are in this life together, come what may we will work and laugh and love and endure together. So, when we are betrayed or when we betray others this trust is what is broken and often the relationship breaks alongside it.
When I was a senior in high school my friend’s parents were out of town, so of course we threw a party. And of course, being the teenage punk that I was, I told my mom that I was going to stay at a friend’s house whose parents she didn’t know and would never call. So the next morning I came home, in need of some serious rehydration, and I walked into the kitchen. My mom asked if I had had fun at Grant’s house the night before and I mumbled a yes, unknowingly walking into a trap. I had forgotten that my mom used to go for morning runs with her friend Marsha out in Ivy. They would pick a neighborhood, meet up and go for a jog. And that morning by Divine Intervention they picked Grant’s neighborhood. My truck was not in Grant’s driveway, so my mom asked me how that could be, and why Grant’s mom said we hadn’t slept there on the phone. I scrambled, as I often did, and sadly had gotten quite good at, and came up with some ridiculous excuse about my truck running out of gas and Grant forgetting his keys so we slept outside, and then got up early to get breakfast and gas for the truck so we never saw his mom. My mom starred back at me, and after what felt like a lifetime simply said ok and that I should get ready for church because it was Christmas Eve. And that’s where things got interesting, because it was one of the rare days that my dad was home from work during the day and I had the pleasure of meeting him as I walked out of the kitchen. He simply looked at me and said, “BS!”
He didn’t even need the evidence that I had pocket dialed him at about two in the morning with a rowdy party going on in the background. Regardless of the evidence he had, he knew that I was lying through my teeth, and I knew that I couldn’t get my pathetic camping story by him.
Thankfully I had and still have parents who valued trust between themselves and their children, and through painful conviction, confession and forgiveness, we were able to rebuild that trust just in time for me to get into trouble again.
Unfortunately, many of betrayals that we experience are far more heinous than the one I just mentioned, and when we’re left to our own devices, few of our relationships survive betrayal and find reconciliation.
Richard Waugaman, who teaches psychoanalysis at Georgetown says, “[that] whether sexual abuse or profound neglect, violence or treachery, extramarital affair or embezzlement. When we betray others, we violate their confidence in us. When others betray us, they pierce the veil of our innocent reliance.” In other words, betrayal breaks us, it breaks our relationships and the foundation of trust under which our relationships once relied upon. Perhaps we’ve betrayed a loved one, perhaps we’ve betrayed ourselves. Betrayal sends us off into a new world and a new reality of the betrayed vs. the betrayer, a new world of us vs. them, of good vs. evil. And we begin to question our own judgments alongside our feelings of disgrace and shame for being taken advantage of. Betrayal is messy and it leaves us with the lingering question, who can rid us from our disgrace? Who can deliver us from the cycle of sin and resentment and division that follow betrayal?
Unfortunately, I think that we have been conditioned to see people and the statements they make and the things that they do through a black and white lens. As Jonathan Haidt puts it in his new book, “we see our own lives consisting of many small battles between good and evil.” A wall goes up between ourselves and folks on the other side of a political or social issue, and God help us, if we’re betrayed, full of anger, abandonment, disgrace and resentment, then we go ahead and throw some barbed wire on the top of that wall.
Thankfully Jesus sees people on both sides of these fences—the victimizers and the victims. Later in the Gospel of Mark we see the word betrayal once again littered throughout the descriptions of Jesus’ last days. Jesus was betrayed by his disciples, by Peter and Judas, by the High Priests who worshipped and swore to Honor their father in Heaven. By the soldiers who spat at and pierced the side of their Creator. He was betrayed by nearly every man he passed on his way to the Cross. And to what end? Well, so that he might die, and three days later rise again. So that his blood might be spilled for those who betrayed him, regardless of their deservedness or even if they knew about it or believed it or not, so that they may be forgiven and that the blood of their sins that stain their own hands and the lives of their victims may be washed clean.
Jesus talked a lot about the forgiveness of sins, and so we try to do the same at Christ Church, and rightfully so—forgiveness is at the heart of the Gospel message. But to talk about the Good News of the forgiveness of our sins and betrayals through the grace of God is only to talk about one half of this Good News. St Paul says that the grace of God justifies and forgives the ungodly, but what about the God forsaken, what about the one who has been trespassed upon? What about the person on the other side of this good and evil divide that we’ve constructed? What about the victim?
You may have heard of the Amish community in Nickel Mines, PA, where a man from outside the community came into one of their schoolhouses and killed their children before killing himself about ten years ago. And maybe you remember how the families of the slain children, rather than crumbling behind the shadow of a newly constructed wall of disgrace and shame and fear, how they donated money to the killer’s widow and her three young children, and how they attended his funeral to love and support his family, just days after burying their own children.
Forgiveness is what heals us, but these Amish people didn’t forgive because it would make them feel better. Because forgiveness isn’t a form of self-help. They were only able to forgive this man because they knew that this man had already been forgiven.
We may feel the pain and the disgrace of sin through our subjective experiences of things done and left undone to us. We may feel stuck or caught in a place of resentment and bitterness towards those who have sinned against us, unable to tear down the wall that divides us. We may just feel broken; we may just feel unable to love, and we certainly feel unable to forgive. But in a scandalous and offensive and beautiful kind of way, the Gospel actually doesn’t care. Jesus cares about us deeply and our trauma and our suffering, and Jesus cares deeply about justice and our longing and need for it, but he also knows us and how difficult it is for us to forgive regardless of how broken we feel. So he has forgiven for us. Regardless of how broken we feel, there is an objective reality in this world and in our lives that Jesus Christ died on a cross, at the hands of those who betrayed him, and rose from the dead three days later. Jesus has forgiven our sins, but he has also forgiven the sins of our own betrayers. And in doing so, he has set us free from the power of sin that lingers like a stain on our lives and tells us we aren’t worthy of love or forgiveness—that word has no power over us because of the Word of God.
Through his death, and his words, he has already taken our experiences of betrayal and deceit and sin and shattered them on the Cross. So that our betrayal of others and ourselves, and the pain and the brokenness of the betrayed, so that we might all be brought into the Kingdom of God where the last will be first, and disgrace has been replaced with grace. Where the feeling of one-way abuse directed straight at us has been replaced with one-way love, straight from the Cross, straight to our hearts.