A Maundy Thursday meditation: Jesus' love for Judas
Today is the Thursday before Easter, traditionally called Maundy Thursday (when Jesus gave his disciples the “mandate” to love one another in Jn 13:34). On this Maundy Thursday of 2010, I offer the following meditation on Jesus’ love for Judas.
Going all the way back to the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus had taught his followers that they should love not only the people who are good to them but also those who hate them and do them harm. This was not a new teaching. Loving one’s enemies was taught in Ex 23:5 and Prov 25:21. However, many rabbis had interpreted Lev 19:18 (“love your neighbor as yourself”) to mean that we only need to love those who are with us, so to speak, in heart and spirit. They considered our neighbors to be those who love our God and fit in with his people. Jesus taught that such teaching went against the heart of God, who does good to those who love him and to those who do not love him. We are to do the same (Matt 5:43-48).
Now let us return to the Last Supper. John tells us that Jesus “showed [his disciples] the full extent of his love” (13:2). There are many interpretations about what this might mean, but I think John gives us his own frame of reference in his very next sentence: “The evening meal was being served, and the devil had already prompted Judas Iscariot, son of Simon, to betray Jesus” (13:3). One of those at the table with him had become Jesus’ enemy. In fact, Judas had entered into fellowship with Satan, Jesus’ greatest enemy.
And now the stage was fully set for Jesus to demonstrate his love. Jesus was at the table with eleven friends and one mortal enemy.
What happens next illustrates Jesus’ love by violating normal social and relational conventions. The social violation was this. Jesus did what no free Jew should ever have done: he washed his disciples’ feet. This act of lowliness was reserved for servants and slaves. In fact, it offended Peter that Jesus would want to wash his feet. That is why he objects in verse 6, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” In Peter’s mind, “Lord” and “wash feet” contradicted one another. The relational violation was this. Jesus washed Judas’ feet just as tenderly and humbly as he washed everyone else’s.
But I think the best indication of Jesus’ love was yet to come.
When he was finished washing their feet and explaining why he did that, Jesus sat down to eat with them, and announced, “I tell you the truth, one of you is going to betray me” (13:21). Now watch carefully what happens next. “His disciples stared at one another, at a loss to know which one of them he meant” (13:22). What does this detail tell us? Jesus loved Judas so warmly, so consistently, so devotedly, that no one could tell by Jesus’ behavior who the betrayer was. Think about this for a minute. If you were living day in and day out with eleven friends and one enemy who you knew would betray you to a horrible death, how difficult would it be to love your enemy so well that your treatment of him would be indistinguishable from your treatment of the others? Jesus knew what was in Judas’ heart, but he had not tipped his hand by subtly mistreating Judas. That tells us a lot about Jesus. Jesus’ treatment of Judas is a volume of teachings all on its own.
Take a moment on this Maundy Thursday to prayerfully reflect on Jesus’ love for Judas.
- Is there a Judas in your life? How are you treating him or her? Ask God's help to be like Jesus.
- How have you been like Judas in the lives of others? Seek reconciliation quickly.
- How have you been like Judas in your treatment of Jesus? Judas set into motion his own agenda against God’s desires. Humbly seek God’s forgiveness for the ways in which you have done this.
- Worship at the feet of the one who washed others’ feet, including those of his enemy.