22 Nov 2015

Now No Man Knew

Giving the benefit of a very large doubt

This week's thought comes from the New Testament again, in John 13, the story of the Last Supper. Upon returning to Jerusalem for the last time, they came together to eat.

Needless to say, the table manners and traditions of ancient Jerusalem are somewhat foreign to many Americans today. They did not usually "sit" at the table in the same way we do. First of all, they didn't sit completely around the table. Usually the table was long and thin, and the attendants would be placed along one of the long sides, and then on the ends. The fourth side was left open for the servants to come and attend to those at the table.

The other major difference was that instead of sitting, they would lay upon the ground. The table was around six inches off the ground, and those in attendance would lay on their left side with their head towards the table and their legs pointing away from it. Their left arm would be used to prop up their heads, and they would eat and interact with others using their right arm.

This means that each person would be laid facing the person to their right, and with their back to the person on the left. We don't know too much about the places they were at, but we can say for sure that John was to Christ's right, "leaning on Jesus’ bosom". (John 13:23)

The meal proceeded regularly, as far as we know, until this encounter.

When Jesus had thus said, he was troubled in spirit, and testified, and said, Verily, verily, I say unto you, that one of you shall betray me.

Then the disciples looked one on another, doubting of whom he spake.

John 13:21-22

At this point we learn a little about where Peter was sitting.

Now there was leaning on Jesus’ bosom one of his disciples, whom Jesus loved.

Simon Peter therefore beckoned to him, that he should ask who it should be of whom he spake.

John 13:23-24

From later context it seems that this was a somewhat private exchange, meaning Peter was far enough away that he couldn't ask Christ directly, but close enough that he could ask John. Likely Peter was on the end of the table, with maybe one or two people between them.

He then lying on Jesus’ breast saith unto him, Lord, who is it?

Jesus answered, He it is, to whom I shall give a sop, when I have dipped it. And when he had dipped the sop, he gave it to Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon.

John 13:25-26

At this point Christ would have whispered his response to John, and Peter may have been close enough to hear, perhaps he wasn't. What we assume is that Judas did not hear. Christ took a piece of bread and dipped it in the "sop", a sort of gravy with the meat. Judas was apparently close enough behind Christ (likely directly to his left, or perhaps with one person between them) that Christ could turn slightly (again without getting up - as was tradition) that he could give the sop to Judas. Giving sop was also a common tradition, where the host could offer it to anyone for really no apparent reason. It would not have attracted the attention of anyone besides John, and perhaps Peter.

This is all very interesting, but I really wanted to share all this in order to give context for what happens next.

And after the sop Satan entered into him. Then said Jesus unto him, That thou doest, do quickly.

Now no man at the table knew for what intent he spake this unto him.

For some of them thought, because Judas had the bag, that Jesus had said unto him, Buy those things that we have need of against the feast or, that he should give something to the poor.

John 13:27-29

What stands out to me, and what I hoped to share today is that none of the others suspected what Judas was up to. When the Lord said "Verily . . . one of you shall betray me," none of them rolled their eyes and said "Oh he must be talking about Judas again." Instead, the scripture records they "looked on one another, doubting of whom he spake." And then even after the Lord had confirmed to John that it was Judas, it records that "no man at the table knew for what intent he spake this unto him." Undoubtedly John heard what Christ had spoken to Judas, because we have it recorded, but none of them but Christ knew why Judas was leaving.

There has been much discussion over what led Judas to betray Christ. Some postulate that he was misled, and originally had intended to bring the Lord further into the public view. Others say he had been growing in corruption from the beginning of the Lord's ministry. I do not know (or claim to know) what led Judas to do such a thing, but the point I bring today is that the other Apostles saw it coming.

Can you imagine the surprise when they saw the approaching crowd to take Christ away, and who was leading them? Their friend, their associate, their colleague, Judas. This was the man who had been with them from the beginning - out of all those who should protect and uphold their beloved master, it was him. But instead of coming as a friend he came as an enemy. Instead of honor, he brought betrayal.

We may not know the circumstances of Judas' betrayal, but we can learn something of it. Often we look upon each other as if we know the thoughts and intentions of each others' hearts. We mistakenly assume that because we cannot understand someone, there must be something suspicious or wrong with them. This is a very human tendancy, and it is one we must try to avoid and repress.

As with Judas, only Christ knows the hearts of those around us. We cannot claim to see any clearer than Christ's Apostles, and even acknowledging our limited vision does not give us authority to judge one another. Inside the church the Lord calls those he desires to serve as judges, and they are given guidance of the Spirit to help them fulfil that responsibility. But none of us - regardless of calling or circumstance - are in a position to condemn others.

Often online I see people make hasty judgements about people they do not know or have met only briefly. Surely we have to make judgements in our day to day lives on how to associate with and communicate with others. Who do we come to trust? Who do we rely on? Those judgements are a natural occurance that guides our decision. But we must remember when looking upon strangers, or particularly those who are different from us, that we do not always understand them. This misunderstanding has the tendancy to create fear, and until given the chance to come to know them that fear often leads to misguided judgement.

As we watch world events happen around us, let us not give in to fear. There certainly are those out there with intent to harm others, just as there always have been and always will. But there are also those who are fearful and alone, and who need our help. The lesson I learn from Judas and the other Apostles is that we as mortals apparently make for poor judges of character, and so I need to be especially careful and especially prayerful in attempting to distinguish which sort of people is which.