“Surely Not I!”
Matthew 26: 14-28, April 5th, 2020
Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard
Palm & Passion Sunday
“Hear now these words from the gospel account from Matthew, chapter twenty-six, verses fourteen thru twenty-eight
Matthew 26:14 – 28
14 Then one of the twelve, who was called Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests 15 and said, “What will you give me if I betray him to you?” They paid him thirty pieces of silver. 16 And from that moment he began to look for an opportunity to betray him.
17 On the first day of Unleavened Bread the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Where do you want us to make the preparations for you to eat the Passover?” 18 He said, “Go into the city to a certain man, and say to him, ‘The Teacher says, my time is near; I will keep the Passover at your house with my disciples.’” 19 So the disciples did as Jesus had directed them, and they prepared the Passover meal. 20 When it was evening, he took his place with the twelve; 21 and while they were eating, he said, “Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me.” 22 And they became greatly distressed and began to say to him one after another, “Surely not I, Lord?” 23 He answered, “The one who has dipped his hand into the bowl with me will betray me. 24 The Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that one by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that one not to have been born.” 25 Judas, who betrayed him, said, “Surely not I, Rabbi?” He replied, “You have said so.”
26 While they were eating, Jesus took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” 27 Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you; 28 for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.
“Having listened to this reading from the gospel, let us now consider how this last meal, coupled with betrayal, has a bearing on our life in this time, this place and this situation we now find ourselves.”
“Surely Not I!”
Today, today is Palm Sunday, a day of celebration and singing Hallelujah and Alleluia; for Jesus, the King of the Jews, had come into town! They shouted ‘Hosanna’, ‘Hosanna’, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” The crowds, they were excited and shouting praises to their Lord, their King. Yet, in the subtitle to the parade, we learn Jesus rode into town on a small donkey, a young colt some say. And we learn he came in through the ‘back’ gate. Conversely, Pilate rode in through the ‘front’ gate on a great stallion, with his soldiers and chariots. Who then was this Jesus who caused the crowds to shout Hosanna, Hosanna! While, Pilate came in with his soldiers from the front gate, and the humble, kind and compassionate Savior, Jesus, came in the back. Nevertheless, traditionally, we celebrate Jesus’ entry that day with Palm Branches as we too are excited that he came to town, our town; even with the darkness, the pestilence, the very plight of humankind coming in the front gate. This contradiction seems all too human, all too improbable and difficult. Yet, the scriptures and tradition, maintains this to be true.
Our scripture lesson takes place after the parade and after the excitement of the Palm Sunday parade event. In past years we have marked this occasion on Thursday, Maundy Thursday. Today, we will move from the parade of Palm Sunday into that last night, that last meal Jesus shared with his disciples. Yet, before the meal gets underway, we hear this exchange between “Judas Iscariot and the chief priests as Judas asks what they would give him to betray Jesus.” “They paid him thirty pieces of silver.” /Matthew 26:15/ At the meal that last evening, Jesus confronts Judas, and his betrayal is exposed. Yet, Jesus goes forward with the meal with all twelve disciples, handpicked by Jesus, as Jesus blessed the bread and the table drink. Would you let someone who has betrayed you, would you allow that one to sit and eat with you? Jesus has always done the surprising, especially, as he fulfills his destiny… his ‘calling’ as the Son of God.
Each of us here this morning, each of you that are listening to this broadcast, we must learn to sit with our enemy. Our enemy is a virus, which we do not understand. A plaque has turned our very lives upside down. We are told to not gather as a community above ten persons, and to stay six feet apart. Consequentially, we are gathered like this, via a recording on a website or live on this Facebook feed; either way we do so in the company and presence of this enemy, which we cannot see. It is amongst us, in some form and we are forced to face its reality. Yet, we are still called upon to be in the fellowship of those who came before us, like Jesus and the disciples; even as this enemy, this opponent is here with us. We have been betrayed by our false self-reliance and forced to accept and admit our helplessness in the face of this antagonist. Surely, our faith will now allow us to break bread with Jesus; let us pray we shall trust in God’s promise.
Yes, we all are invited to the table, the communion table is set before us this very day. Allow yourself, let us allow ourselves to be with Jesus and his disciples. Let us do this together the next time we partake of a morsel of food, bread or crackers, whatever the sustenance, the nourishment, the food which we have in front of us. Giving thanks to God for that which shall be our daily bread. Giving thanks as we bite into it, being reminded of Christ’s blessing to us, one and all. “The bread of new life” goes through our hearts and minds as we remember the blessing, the promise of life everlasting with our Creator God. The forgiveness of our wrong doings are washed away as we ask for forgiveness of our personal sins.
Then, as we pick up our tumbler filled with the chosen table drink, again giving thanks to our Creator, we drink of it as we feel the blessing of Christ fill our hearts; the Living Spirit of Christ washes over us. With this sense of forgiveness and newness we give thanks to God for the privilege of this holy meal. In the same way Jesus dined with his betrayer, we also shall go forward with our daily lives, knowing that this new enemy, shall not stand between us and the fullness of God’s eternal life. In the stillness of the moment, we can take time to give thanks for the fullness of the meal, the invitation to dine with Christ, sharing the fullness of life which is offered and bestowed upon us. Through this holy meal, we join with millions upon millions of like-minded Christians, whether orthodox, conservative, mainline or progressive in our understanding of theology. Through Christ we are all one!
Coming together as a people, even in the newness of our need to socially distance ourselves, is a blessing. Our challenge is to cling to our faith with a new resolve, allowing ourselves to fully live, even as we come to accept this new reality in the presence of our understanding of God. We need to set aside our false understanding of self-reliance and invite our Creator, our Redeemer and our Sustaining life-giving God, to come walk with us in our journey. Yes, we need to acknowledge God’s presence, we need to accept the invitation if we expect to receive the fullness of what God offers to us. If a friend extends an invitation to a banquet, it is expected you will accept the invitation before showing up! Neither would you show up without being invited. Let us extent the same courtesy to our God. Ask Christ to come to your home and ask the Spirit to fill your life.
It is difficult to step into our daily life unsure of exactly what is lurking waiting to disrupt our routine and possibly derail our expectations of peace and serenity. We can be assured that the people of Jerusalem, way back at the time of what is considered that first Palm Sunday, they wanted Jesus to be the conquering hero that would overthrow their enemies. Jesus was displaying to the crowds, in the months before that grand entrance into Jerusalem, Jesus was showing us all that he had many mystical gifts. More than just his charismatic personality. His sermons, his teachings were reaching the ears of a needy people who had had enough of hardship and oppression. The accounts of his mystical healings, the crippled picked up their mats and walked, the man born blind was given sight. Then the dead man was revived and given new life. If we had been there – would we not also have greeted him with – shouts of Hosanna, Hosanna!
That last meal with Jesus had many aspects to it as well. Sure, we know Judas had betrayed him, yet Jesus let him stay with them. But before the meal, in one of our gospel accounts, Jesus also takes off his robe and washes their feet. Jesus humbly took on this role of a servant on that last night – seeking to show them the full meaning of his ministry. It seems clear, Jesus was not grooming these men to be powerful politicians or wealthy businessmen. No, Jesus’ teachings, his ministry was calling to people to be obedient to the teachings of a God that held the power of unselfish love above all else. Sounds poetic, until we learn that the Son of God expected them and expects us, to sit with our enemies and eat with those who would betray us.
Thirty pieces of silver may not sound like that much today, but it was a large sum of money to Judas Iscariot that day he agreed to betray Jesus. “Surely Not I” /Matthew 26:22b/ Judas cried out when Jesus confronted him at diner that last night. “Surely Not I” is a common cry, even in the “Twenty-First Century.” ‘Surely, not I’, you and I, we would not hoard toilet paper – in a national crisis. ‘Surely, not I’, you and I, we would not think of our own selfish need first – in a time of shortage. Nor would we accept money in exchange for betraying another who had first trusted us with much! Nor would we accept power and influence to crowd our judgement to save ourselves and our own family over the needs of the many. ‘Surely, not I!’
The hours following that last meal became perilous, dangerous and life threatening for all who were associated with Jesus. Even Peter, upon whom Jesus considered the rock on-which he would build his church, even Peter denies knowing Jesus three times that night. Difficult times. Trying and turbulent times. When his need was the greatest, the disciples hid in fear. Surely, we would not do the same, would we? Social distancing is the easy part. Working on the front lines, holding the hand of the dying, knowing the family can’t be there because of the virus, the enemy; that is hard! How could the crowds have turned on Jesus so quickly? If we had been there, we would not have turned our backs on him, would we have?
Can you hear them sing that heart wrenching hymn, “Where you there when they crucified my Lord!” “Where you there when they crucified my Lord!”