If I were the man you wanted

At supper with his friends, Jesus was troubled in spirit, and declared, “Very truly, I tell you, one of you will betray me.” The disciples looked at one another, uncertain of whom he was speaking. One of his disciples– the one whom Jesus loved– was reclining next to him; Simon Peter therefore motioned to him to ask Jesus of whom he was speaking. So while reclining next to Jesus, he asked him, “Lord, who is it?” Jesus answered, “It is the one to whom I give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish.” So when he had dipped the piece of bread, he gave it to Judas son of Simon Iscariot. After he received the piece of bread, Satan entered into him. Jesus said to him, “Do quickly what you are going to do.” Now no one at the table knew why he said this to him. Some thought that, because Judas had the common purse, Jesus was telling him, “Buy what we need for the festival”; or, that he should give something to the poor. So, after receiving the piece of bread, he immediately went out. And it was night.

John 13:21-30

First of all, let’s not make this any weirder than it is. Jesus is breaking up with Judas. In any case, that would be awkward. He also does it in the middle of dinner, which is uncomfortable for everyone else there and probably especially so for “the one whom Jesus loved.” It’s you, John. We all know it is you. Quit being coy. You’re just making it weird.

And of course Jesus loves you. Jesus loves everybody, completely. That’s not like saying that my grandmother loved all of her grandchildren equally, because my grandmother clearly had a favorite and we all know who it was. It’s ok though, because I think she really did love all of her grandchildren. She was just more closely connected to some, and that is a very human thing.

So it is probably hard to imagine how Jesus could completely know, and completely love, everyone he came into contact with. To be in his presence must have felt like you and he had a “thing,” a complete understanding which was unique in all the world. It would have felt that way because it would have been (and still is) true. The beloved disciple’s relationship with Jesus is just as unique as each other person’s in the room. Including Judas.

Jesus knows Judas well enough to know that, in order for Judas to be Judas, he is going to have to betray Jesus. By the same token, in order for Jesus to be Jesus, he is going to have to let Judas do Judas. Yesterday, when the Greeks showed up, Jesus accepted that the course of history — into which he had chosen to step — would sweep him up to the events on Golgotha. Maybe out of frustration, or maybe out of fear, Judas doesn’t want to let that happen. Perhaps in this betrayal, Judas hopes to force Jesus out of the historical timeline by a display of the eternal sovereignty of God.

Jesus won’t do it. That kind of intervention, like throwing a cosmic circuit breaker, would not only do violence to the human narrative, it would betray the larger reality that nothing is powerful enough to sever God’s connection from the beloved. Nothing, except perhaps the beloved denying the love which Jesus bears for the world, even through brokenness and persecution. Judas doesn’t want to let Jesus do Jesus.

In light of the decision each has made, their split seems almost inevitable. Jesus is no more likely to change the timeline to accommodate Judas than he is to accommodate the Judeans or the Romans or any other tempting variation. That doesn’t make the loss of Judas any less of a tragedy. Losing love is probably always tragic, even when it is inevitable.

Brother Lyle Lovett seems to know a thing or two about losing love. That was true well before his marriage to Julia Roberts (which lasted less time than Jesus’s earthly ministry.) His first album — which is already but also not yet the kind of craftmanship we will come to expect from Brother Lyle — contains a song about breaking up told, like today’s gospel, around a table of friends. The precipitating event is never specifically mentioned, and I don’t think it matters much. What does matter is that Brother Lyle acknowledges how little sense blame makes in a situation where both people, if they are being as true to themselves as they know how, are inevitably going to part.

This song was covered by Willie Nelson on his 1993 album “Across the Borderline.” It’s an underappreciated album (except in Norway, where it went gold,) but I guess when you have put out 39 previous albums, number 40 is bound to get lost in the shuffle, even with Super-producer Don Was on board. Willie’s characteristic phrasing and Trigger’s1 unique sound — a result of what is missing as much as what is there — puts a plaintive air on the song that resonates through Was’s sparkling production. As he sings, we can hear that things are not ok, but they are how they must be.

1 Trigger being the name of Willie Nelson’s guitar.