At the Last Supper, as Luke’s Gospel describes it, the apostles behaved in an unusual way. When Jesus told them that he was about to be betrayed, the apostles “began to debate about who among them would do such a deed.” (Lk. 22:21-23) Take a moment to reflect on that statement.
Why would a debate develop immediately about who would betray Jesus? If they had been surprised by Jesus’ statement, they would have fallen silent, or questioned him about it, or denied the possibility. The fact that they began to debate the issue indicates that they thought it entirely possible that one of them could betray him.
Obviously, they didn’t trust one another. Perhaps, each one distrusted himself. The fact that betrayal seemed so likely speaks volumes about the character and faith of the members of the group.
The simple truth is that all of them betrayed Jesus in one way or another. Judas arranged for him to be arrested. Peter’s betrayal, however, might have been more callous than Judas’. Judas betrayed Jesus by identifying him publicly to the crowd which accompanied the Temple guards. (Lk 22:47) Peter, on the other hand, denied knowing him. (Lk. 22:57) The remaining apostles ran away after Jesus’ arrest and were absent from his crucifixion. A stranger visiting Jerusalem for Passover helped carry Jesus’ cross (Lk. 23:26), and a member of the Sanhedrin made arrangements for his burial. (Lk. 23:50-53) Jesus’ so-called friends abandoned him when he was in most need of their friendship.
The simple truth remains that it is easy to betray Jesus; his followers do so repeatedly. We betray Jesus when we fail to show gratitude for his sacrificial death. We betray Jesus when we fail to profess our faith publicly. We betray Jesus when we rely on our own power, virtue, or righteousness rather than on God’s will. We betray Jesus when we fail to address the needs of the poor and the marginalized. As it turns out, betraying Jesus is rather easy to do.
It seems that Jesus knew exactly how easy it would be for his followers to abandon him. After the meal, Jesus went to the Mount of Olives accompanied by his apostles. Before going off by himself, he said to the group, “Pray that you may not undergo the test.” (Lk. 22:40) In Late Second Temple Judaism, there was a commonly held expectation that a cataclysmic event would test the faith of God’s People; those who survived this time of trial would be rewarded eternally by God, but those whose faith was weak would merit condemnation. The “test” that Jesus mentioned would separate the faithful from the faithless; he prayed that their weak and faltering faith would survive his crucifixion.
Although the common expectation at the time was that a single cataclysmic event would test the faith of all God’s People simultaneously, the “test” turned out to be a different sort of event. The “test” that separates the faithful from the faithless is varied, and applies uniquely to each person’s life. In fact, each of us faces multiple opportunities throughout our lives to give witness to the reality of our faith. To proclaim publicly our faith, to trust God’s will, and to grant forgiveness to others are the types of repeated opportunities through which we can demonstrate our loyalty to Jesus. Alternately, these are also the types of repeated opportunities through which we can betray Jesus by not acting in faithful ways.
We should expect that our faith will face “the test.” We should expect our faith to be tested by our own weakness, the failings of others, and the imperfections of the world. At those times, we can find strength and comfort in the knowledge that Jesus has already prayed that we might not succumb to the temptation to faithlessness.