We all think we know what we would do when push comes to shove. But so did the apostles. And they all deserted Jesus in his hour of need.
Thursday of Holy Week is a day of preparation for the Passover. Since the tradition calls for purity, the Jewish women are busy with their assigned chores of cleaning everything and everyone from top to bottom in their households before presenting themselves, their sacrificial lamb and unleavened breads for the Passover meal the following day. The men are finding and securing that lamb. It is a task that is most important in this tradition. The lamb must be one year old, must be male and must have no imperfections whatsoever. Most of the Jewish families at this point in the week were no longer distracted by tensions in the temple or anything else for that matter. They were focused and on task.
Jesus’ disciples were also busy securing a room in town, but their dinner would be tonight, not tomorrow night, for Jesus knew this would be their last night together.
The room is reserved, dinner menu has been ordered and prepared and the apostles and Jesus have just arrived. They filter into this room, chatting and taking off their sandals as is the custom in most indoor spaces. Jesus chose his dining spot, and the apostles gathered around the low table and began to sit on the pillows that were awaiting them. Once the meal was being served, Jesus got up from his place, removed his outer garment, filled a basin with water and started washing the feet of his closest friends. Remember that they have not only walked from Bethany, about two miles away, but when they arrived in the city, some of them were going from merchant to merchant making the preparations for the meal tonight. With the combination of their open sandals and the dirt-filled paths of the city streets, their feet were dusty and quite smelly. The common practice of washing guests’ feet would fall to the servants of households. If there were no servants in the household, the members of the family and even guests would be responsible for cleaning their own feet before entering the home, especially at dinner time.
Since this group of misfits did not have the money to keep a servant in tow these last few years, they were responsible for keeping their own feet clean. They didn’t anticipate having someone there to wash their feet, and they never in their wildest dreams expected that someone to be Jesus. Jesus not only tenderly washed their feet, but he also took the time and attention to dry them with the towel that he had wrapped around his waist. I imagine that, while Jesus was bent over in front of them, the apostles were looking at each other, wide-eyed and maybe even shrugging their shoulders with the body language that indicated they didn’t know what to do but no one dared to open their mouth in question. Except Peter, of course.
John 13:6-10 “‘No, said Peter, ‘you shall never wash my feet.’
Jesus answered, ‘Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.’
‘Then, Lord,’ Simon Peter replied, ‘not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!’
Jesus answered, ‘A person who has had a bath needs only to wash his feet; his whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one of you.’” Meaning Judas Iscariot.
Jesus then returns to his place at the table and goes on to explain to them that he has just set an example for what he wants them to do for others. “Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet.” John 13:14
Jesus had so much more to tell his closest friends that night. There was an overwhelming need for him to relay his insights, his desires for them to continue to seek the Father, to comfort them in what was about to happen but to also encourage them to stay the course. He wanted to get on with this because he knew time was of the essence. However, the tension of sitting next to the one who had already betrayed him to the chief priests and rulers was interfering in his quest for teaching the rest of these chosen few. He felt the need to clear the room of this traitor first.
“Jesus was troubled in spirit and testified, ‘I tell you the truth, one of you is going to betray me’; His disciples stared at one another, at a loss to know which of them he meant. One of them, the disciple whom Jesus loved, was reclining next to him. Simon Peter motioned to this disciple and said, ‘Ask him which one he means.’
Leaning back against Jesus, he asked him, ‘Lord, who is it?’ Jesus answered, ‘It is the one to whom I will give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish.’ Then, dipping the piece of bread, he gave it to Judas Iscariot, son of Simon.
As soon as Judas took the bread, Satan entered him. ‘What you are about to do, do quickly,’” John 13:21-27
Judas took the bread and left quickly. Since the rest of the disciples did not hear John’s question to Jesus nor Jesus’ answer since they were sitting right next to each other, the disciples assumed Judas left to buy something that was needed for tomorrow’s Passover Feast.
When Judas left, it was already night.
Jesus takes those next few hours to continue with his teachings and instructions to the apostles. He also told them that on this very night, they will all fall away from him, meaning they will all flee from his side. None of them could believe what they were hearing from the one they loved so dearly. In their minds, nothing could make them leave the side of the amazing Christ! They’ve watched him straighten crippled legs, restore a blind man’s sight, raise a dead little girl from her bed and even bring their friend, Lazarus, back to life after four days in a tomb! Nothing could tear them from his side. Nothing! They believe with all their heart that he is the Messiah.
Peter seems to be the most offended by this outrageous claim and steps up verbally with an emphatic, “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.”
Jesus looks at his friends with sadness in his eyes but an overflowing love and compassion in his heart and says to Peter, “This very night, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times.” Jesus had already forgiven each one of these men before they even had a chance to do him wrong.
I can only imagine this scenario as if it were with my own children. In my heart, I know that there is nothing they can ever do to me or against me that I won’t forgive them. Disappointment, anger, even disgust are all likely upon a betrayal, but not a lack of forgiveness. I see Jesus’ compassion for these men. I see the hurt he must have felt knowing they would all desert him in a few hours’ time. I deduce he even felt sorry for the feelings of guilt they would experience because of their actions. And yet, he still loved them and treated them as loyal friends.
The weight of what he was about to experience felt daunting and heavy on Jesus. He did what we do when we feel this way, or at least what we should do. After dinner, he went to a familiar, secluded place where he could be alone with the Father. He laid all of his thoughts and feelings and requests before Him. He prayed with earnestness. He begged and pleaded with his Father to find another way for the sins of the world to be erased. He didn’t want to go through it. He felt such distress and anxiety over his impending suffering, that even his sweat turned into blood. When he realized the answer he sought was not coming to fruition, he said to his loving Father, “My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.”
My family was able to visit the garden of Gethsemane in the summer of 2018. We walked the beautiful pathways lined with flowering bushes and trees. The colors, smells and beauty of this garden were breathtaking. We also saw just how close it was to the side gate of the temple. When Jesus finished praying and was standing with his disciples, he could see the torches coming through that gate, appearing one by one as the parade of Jewish leaders and soldiers made their way toward him. It’s so close that he could make out some of the faces, even in the darkness of night. I remember being emotionally overwhelmed in this little garden. This was where the tide turned for Jesus. This was where Jesus could have changed the course of the next few hours. This was it. His last chance to flee and come up with another plan! But he didn’t.
Jesus stood still. He just stood still and watched them come.
The group was led by none other than Judas, who walked straight to Jesus, kissed him and said, “Greetings, Rabbi!” This was the signal for the soldiers to know which man to arrest.
Jesus replied, “Friend, do what you came for.” Matthew 26:50
I’m fairly confident that’s not the noun I would have used.
All four gospels then expound on Jesus being seized, arrested, bound and taken to Caiaphas and his cohorts. But not before Peter pulled his sword and cut off one of the solder’s ears! Peter was making good on his claim that he would not leave Jesus’ side. In fact, he was going to battle right then and there for Jesus!
But Jesus rebuked Peter and calmly placed his hand on the soldier’s face and restored his ear. I’ve always wondered how this soldier could then carry on his duties without doubting their validity. No doubt he had heard about Jesus’ miracles and most likely had even heard him teaching in the temple courts, but now he was a recipient of what otherwise would have been a major disfigurement, life-long disability and possibly death if the bleeding could not have been stopped. But in a matter of seconds, it was like it never happened. Jesus showed him kindness when he could have easily ignored him.
Jesus was lead out of the garden, down the hill and right back into that side gate of the temple where a long night was just beginning. It was after midnight, and all but Peter and John had already deserted him, fleeing for safety from their own possible arrests, and even those two kept at a distance.
Jesus had been deserted.
Just as Jesus predicted, Peter shrunk back into the shadows not once, not twice but three times over the next few hours, denying that he even knew Jesus, afraid for his life. The third time his voice rose and even cursed in reply,
“I don’t know the man!” Immediately a rooster crowed…and he went outside and wept bitterly.”
It was now officially Friday morning.