They had been together for three years. They didn't all share the same background, but they had shared an exhilarating, confusing and bonding experience. They had become brothers. Sure there were the family spats, but they each looked to their Teacher to hold everything together. The group was nothing without Him. As the twelve gathered together for a private celebration, there was a sense of foreboding. They knew it was an important night to their Teacher, and the events of the past few days had their minds reeling. They gathered around the table and as the meal was being served, suddenly there was their Master wearing a towel around his waist, holding a basin of water, waiting to do what servants weren't even expected to do -- wash their feet.
There was hardly time to recover from this demonstration of servanthood before He dropped the bombshell. They had heard a lot over the past few days, but they were not prepared to hear this: one of them was a traitor. The shock was palpable in the room. But the responses came quickly.
"Is it I, Lord?"
"Is it I?"
"Certainly it can't be me, can it?"
We're not told how many of them asked the question outloud, but we do know that one of them didn't need to ask. He already knew. He had already negotiated the price.
The others surely must have been shooting glances at one another suspiciously. How could one of the family betray their Master? It was a toss-up deciding whether it was worse that He would be betrayed or that the betrayer was reclining there at the table with them. It cut each of them to the quick. Peter, ever the showman, would eventually claim that no matter what happened, he would give his life for the Master. But the Master knew better and told him so.
It is interesting that no one seemed to suspect Judas. The gospels make it clear that Jesus pointed him out, but the eleven misunderstood. Perhaps they weren't ready or willing to believe that any of their group could ever do such a thing. How could a betrayer be at the table?
The passages which relate the events of that night are both beautiful and startling. Chapters 13 through 17 of John paint an incredible portrait that even daVinci's artistry could never touch. Yet still we are missing some images. What did Judas do when Jesus knelt before him to wash his feet? What ran through his mind when Jesus announced that one of them would betray Him? What did Judas do after he left the upper room? Why was Judas even considering such a thing?
The eleven were not phased by Judas' departure from the room. They continued to use their peripheral vision overtime, trying to figure out who the betrayer was. Surely they were scouring their memory banks, trying to figure out who could have shown a hint of being untrustworthy in the past. Yet the obvious answer escaped them until they saw Judas Iscariot leading a detachment of temple guards toward Gethsemene and giving Jesus a kiss of greeting on His cheek.
We hate traitors. There was no more disgraceful name during the American Revolutionary War than that of Benedict Arnold. Today, Arnold is probably the second-best-known betrayer in history, with the Roman, Brutus, giving him a good run for the money. A traitor is especially hated because he has received trust only to use that trust against his former friend. It's really two horrible acts in one. And we find this despicable.
Yet at the same time, we also sit at a table with a betrayer. Our best intentions and extra effort to live a Christian life are confounded by a traitor. It's frustrating. We end up saying, like Paul, "I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do." Someone keeps betraying our attempts at living a holy life, and he sits at the table with us. And too often we stupidly overlook the obvious answer, just as the eleven overlooked Judas Iscariot. The betrayer at the table can be seen if we would only gaze in the mirror.
I've made the point numerous times that the love of self is the biggest obstacle to our love of God. We try to keep control over our lives instead of submitting to the One who loved us enough to take our penalty for our own sins. Selfishness tells us to keep that dusty Bible on the table and not to pick it up. Selfishness pushes us to watch television instead of spending time with loved ones. Selfishness reminds us that we have no spare time for prayer, even when it's not true. Selfishness puffs us up, telling us that what we think is the most important piece of information the media can ever hope to report. Selfishness prods us to be sure to keep at least a piece of our life out of God's hands (after all, I'm the only one who knows what I want.)
Yet so often I seem to miss the sheer fact that the betrayer at my table is indeed, me. So why do I continue to allow myself to foul up my relationship with my Creator? Why do I look suspiciously at others, even when I know where the betrayer sits? Why am I still so in love with my own voice and my own opinion that I react out of self-defense when I am persecuted instead of consoling myself in Him? Why do I let myself repeatedly do what I hate and avoid what I want to do when the power to obey is within me in the Person of the Holy Spirit? Why do I look to blame everyone but the betrayer at my table?