First, the disciples slept through their prayer watch in the garden of Gethsemane. Then Judas, whom Jesus loved, betrayed him to the Roman soldiers. And finally Peter and others abandoned him to spend those lonely, difficult hours on the cross without their support.
I have found that, of the range of human difficulties, acts of betrayal can be particularly challenging to move beyond. Although insignificant in light of what Jesus suffered, many years passed before I stopped sucking in the halting breath of a sucker punch and stopped feeling an aching tightness mid-chest when I thought of a high school sweetheart whom I had discovered to be cheating on me with one of my best friends.
The Bible Lesson I studied the week before Easter one year focused heavily on Judas' betrayal and Jesus' turning to God to forgive. "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do," were the healing words Jesus spoke from the cross on behalf of all his persecutors. It seemed so natural for such a Godlike man to make God's forgiveness of others his first line of attack in combating sin and pain. Forgiveness was a part of his makeup, a holy expression of the Christ. For him, it was the most natural thing.
During that week before Easter, my thoughts became darker and darker with unhealed anger. I understood that the real message of Easter is not to be confined to the suffering of crucifixion, but it involves the resurrection to a renewed life and the ascension above the effects of sin, sorrow, pain and death.
I longed to honor Jesus by my own resurrection from anger to forgiveness. So I prayed for a change of heart. I prayed to know how to love Judas and to forgive him. My prayers took me back to the Bible.
The book of Lamentations covers the period of sharp, intense pain, anger and sadness immediately after the fall of Jerusalem. The shock over the event gradually fades into the chronic ache of captivity. I think the Jewish people's reaction to their world being turned upside-down are the same emotions that follow a betrayal.
Jeremiah wrote,"My strength and my hope is perished from the Lord. Remembering mine affliction and my misery, the wormwood and the gall. My soul hath them still in remembrance, and is humbled in me." (Lamentations 3:18-20)
Yet even while laying bare this raw and anguished mental state, the prophet also offers a ray of hope. He lights a way out of perpetual suffering when he continues, "This I recall to my mind, therefore have I hope. It is of the Lord's mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not. They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness... Let us lift up our heart with our hands unto God in the heavens." (ibid. 3:21-13,41)
I could love the Judas who had progressed on under the renewable mercies of divine Love, which morning after morning pours forgiveness and love on His children.
I thought, "Why, the real Judas has probably ascended by now under the influence and healing power of all that compassion and mercy and love. He would no longer identify himself with the evil that claimed to possess him. Am I going to still hold him, centuries later, to his worst behavior on his most deluded day?"
Jesus didn't. "Father, forgive them," included Judas, too. It seems to me that Jesus' method of forgiveness, being counter-intuitive to the human mortal response to betrayal, acted like ammonia mixed with chlorine in a closed room. It deprived evil of all air, literally snuffing it out.
I felt compassion for them. They hadn't known who they were. They didn't know what they did. That was all that I needed to forgive the worst and let go of the pain of the betrayal.
I don't claim to begin to the fathom the depth of the betrayal, and the great heights of the divine Love, that Jesus experienced. But I do know that every part of his story teaches us something essential about the marvelous capacity and resilience we have, as God's children, to forgive and to grow in love.
Mary Baker Eddy wrote, "Christianity is not superfluous. Its redemptive power is seen in sore trials, self-denials, and crucifixions of the flesh. But these come to the rescue of mortals, to admonish them, and plant the feet steadfastly in Christ. As we rise above the seeming mists of sense, we behold more clearly that all the heart's homage belongs to God. More love is the great need of mankind. A pure affection, concentric, forgetting self, forgiving wrongs and forestalling them, should swell the lyre of human love." Miscellaneous Writings, 106
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