Tag Archives: betrayal

The Cornerstone

This Jesus is ‘the stone that was rejected by you, the builders; it has become the cornerstone.’
(Acts 4:11 NRSV)

“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”
(John 10:11 NRSV)

The stone that was rejected has become the cornerstone – the cornerstone of what?

Building methods have changed considerably over the centuries; and nothing more than in recent times. These days if you want to put up a building you choose your method according to the size of the building. If it’s a house, you make sure that there is a good concrete raft for the structure to stand on. If it’s a larger building, you erect a frame of rolled steel joists and clad these with bricks, or stones, or even steel, aluminium or plastic.

In the first instance it is the concrete raft which supports the weight of the building. In the latter it is the steel frame, usually anchored in concrete which does the job.

But up until the 20th century your options were more constrained.

Look at any pre-20th Century English church. One of the most common architectural features is that it depends on keystones for its structural integrity. Keystones are the tapered blocks at the head of all the arches which stop the whole structure from collapsing. They lock the other stones into place and transfer the weight down the columns to the foundations.

Similarly, in times gone by, large buildings depended on cornerstones. Cornerstones do what it says on the tin. They are substantial stones placed at the corners of large buildings which serve to support the weight of the structure and to provide the point of reference for all the other stones in the structure.

If Jesus is the corner stone of the church, he is supporting a very great weight indeed.

And yet this is exactly the way in which the early church viewed him. Without Christ the Church is utterly without support, and will collapse. Without Christ, the Church has no point of reference against which to define its purpose.

Whatever does that mean?

Well, it means that the church is not a club for like-minded people; nor is it a place where we come just to feel better because we believe in God.

What it does mean is that the Church, local, world-wide and universal, draws its strength and its entire purpose from the reality of the Son of God, and all that he came to do. He is her cornerstone, her one point of reference.

The Church in every age is the embodiment of the purposes of God in Christ; or at least we should be.

And so we ask again: whatever does that mean? To put it plainly: whatever Jesus was, the Church should seek to be in our time and place.

Jesus described himself as the good shepherd, meaning that there was nothing that he would not do for his flock: including dying for them – for us. As the body of Christ in our time and place – tough though it seems – we need to be prepared to follow Christ’s example. That is the concept of agapé; the self-giving love exemplified by Christ.

Many were drawn to Jesus by his teaching, his healing and his example of humility. The Church of today must continue his teaching and, though we may lack his miraculous powers, there is much we can do to offer healing to each other and those around us.

Never underestimate the healing power of a kind word or a smile of welcome. And, in the name of Christ’s humility, there is an immense amount that we could do to be genuinely welcoming of others into our church communities – it’s a role which is not just for the welcome team but for the whole church family.

We are greatly blessed that, in his mission of salvation, Jesus held absolutely nothing back in his care for us. Our vocation, our calling, is to continue that mission – to care for the flock and to reach out for the lost sheep in the name of Jesus.

We need to worship, we need to proclaim, we need to support, we need to evangelise, we need to teach and nurture, we need to give and to forgive, and we need to care – in the name of Jesus our Lord.

For there is no other name in which we dare do this; no other name which is worthy; only Jesus Christ, who is the cornerstone of our faith.

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Saint or Satan?

And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.
(Matthew 16:18 NRSV)

But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”
(Matthew 16:23 NRSV)

Part of the genius of the gospel writers is that they give us a great insight into some of the personalities they portray, and do so with the utmost economy of words. We know very little about the background of some of the people in the New Testament, and yet their characters stand out clearly through their interaction with Jesus.

Nowhere is this more true than in the writings about Peter, who emerges as a bold and impetuous man, who can also be a coward; a man who often speaks and acts before he thinks, a dear friend of Jesus who denies him at the crucial moment.

It was Peter who exclaimed, with great insight, that Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of the Living God. The same Peter then simply could not grasp the true suffering nature of Jesus’ vocation. One minute he is the “Rock” and the next he is Satan, the accuser and deceiver of souls. You have to have some sympathy for him.

But Peter remained one of Jesus’ closest friends and followers, despite the fact that he let him down when he needed him the most.

For Peter knew that in his encounter with Jesus he had caught that glimpse of heaven. He just struggled to work out what that would mean for the life of an ordinary fisherman and his friends.

The story of Peter can be seen as an allegory of our encounter with God. In that story, the sacred and the secular, the mundane and the mysterious are thoroughly blended together. Human foolishness and weakness is transformed by divine wisdom, forgiveness and love.

And, because the story hasn’t ended (for we are part of the same story which the gospel writers began), the same can be true for us.

Jesus,
Overwhelm my foolishness and weakness
with your wisdom, love and forgiveness.
Bless the everyday things of my life
with your divine grace,
and guide my steps to follow where you lead.
Amen

Come, Share My Life

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.” Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you; for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.
(Matthew 26:26-28 NRSV)

Sharing a meal together can be a very special experience. Even in this busy world where so many of us grab something to eat in passing, I love the opportunity to sit down and eat with family and friends, especially if I have been able to help with the preparation of the meal. At its best, sharing a meal is one of the holiest of experiences because in the offering and receiving, the sharing and sometimes the discussion, the laughter and banter around the table, we can catch a glimpse of the people we are meant to be.

Jesus shared this very special meal with his friends on the night before his own body was broken on the cross.

Even without entering into the theological disputes about the nature of this “Last Supper,” of the words and the meaning of the elements of bread and wine, we can see something significant.

In sharing this meal, in this way, Jesus is creating a bond between himself and his disciples. Those who share this meal, and those who come after them, have a share in the life of Jesus, the incarnate God.

We don’t worship a distant God who is unconcerned about our daily struggles, but who demands our utter devotion. Rather, we have a share in the life of the God who took our flesh and blood, who lived among us, and who knows our humanity.

We don’t have to go looking for God; God has come to us.

Jesus,
in the supper of your betrayal
uou declared your unity with your friends.
May I be your friend,
at one with you.
Amen

Consequences

When they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesus there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left.
(Luke 23:33 NRSV)

Have you ever played the game of Consequences? As children we used to play it occasionally: writing random names and actions on pieces of paper, folding them over and then passing them on for someone else to write the next bit. At the end the paper would be unfolded and the story read out, amid much giggling at the various outcomes.

Of course, all actions have consequences, for good or ill, intended or unexpected.

In the story of Jesus it is quite clear that most of his disciples expected a very different outcome than did Jesus himself.

They expected a new King to be crowned; one who would, probably leading an army, throw out the hated Roman occupiers and revive the ancient kingdom of David.

Jesus knew different. He knew that the kingdom of costly love which he came to establish was deeply subversive of the existing kingdoms and, as a somewhat ironic consequence, would generate substantial opposition.

He challenged those who abused power.

He challenged those who abused wealth.

He challenged those who abused status.

He challenged those who wore their religion like a badge but refused to acknowledge their obligations to fellow human beings.

He showed that many people’s ideas about God, and God’s purposes for his world, were wrong.

He demonstrated that, in his Kingdom, life would be lived differently; in the present.

Jesus knew there would be consequences. And so there were: betrayed by a friend, arrested after dark and dragged off to face trumped-up charges of blasphemy before a kangaroo court, hauled before the governor on different charges (treason against Rome), beaten, scourged, humiliated and finally brutally and publically executed as a political expedient.

And as a consequence his enemies believed that they had solved their problem and set an example for other would-be messiahs to be aware of. “This is what happens to those who challenge us.” His friends thought that their hopes and dreams had died on that cross.

But the important thing for us to remember about the crucifixion of Jesus is that it is not the end of the story. There are further consequences.

Jesus,
Sometimes I look at the cross
and just don’t know what to think;
overwhelmed by its mingled story of love
in the face of deep brutality.
Help me to grasp its meaning
for your Kingdom
in our time.
Amen.

Betrayal

After saying this 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 NRSV)

You seemed to take it so calmly, Lord.
Your betrayal.

Sending the betrayer to do his worst.
As if you were sending him on an errand.

Eye meeting eye.
One with pain and understanding
(and, Oh, that very understanding seems to condemn at times!)
The other with fear and anger
(What could he say, the traitor?
In that instant he knew that you knew.
Did he also know your power to forgive,
he who could not, would not, forgive himself?).

He who shared your bread
caused your body to be pierced!
He who drank from your cup
sharpened the spear!

And so, for twenty centuries we have cursed his name,
made him an icon for treason, the stab in the back,
the symbol of a dark vocation – you Judas!

We, who will always stand firm;
we, who will always fight the good fight;
we, who will always proclaim the truth;
we, who would always speak up for you.

Within reason, of course.
Provided we can be balanced about things.
No need for extremes, after all.
I hope we can see eye to eye on that.

Nigel Carter

Three Voices of Simon – Part 3

A Reconciliation
John, Chapter 21

My name is Simon but you probably know me better as Peter: Petros, the Rock. Oh yes, I can speak Greek too. Petros. Ha!

I have a story to tell you. You may not believe me when I tell you my story, but I will tell it anyway.

You see, I’m the man who betrayed Jesus. That’s me. The one and only. And if you really knew me you would know just how typical of me that is: big man, big ideas, big time blunderer. But you must admit that if you are really going to make your mark on history, then betraying the Son of God is an impressive way to do it.

You all thought it was Judas, didn’t you? No. Judas was always something of a misfit, a bit of an idealist in many ways, and putty in the hands of the Sanhedrin. They played him like a tambourine, used him to get at Jesus and then made sure he took the blame. Very clever. I almost felt sorry for Judas in the end.

No. I was the real villain of the piece, I’m sorry to admit. I was the villain because I was his best friend, told him I would lay down my life for him – and I meant it too – until push came to shove. Then, when he needed me most, I hid my face.

It was never supposed to be like that. We were supposed to be on the road to glory. In the end I believe we were, and still are. But now I know just how bumpy that road can be – at least I think I do.

I’m a fisherman by profession. My brother Andrew and I ran our own fishing business out of the port of Bethsaida on the shore of Galilee. Its not a bad business to be in. You never go hungry, the lake is teeming with fresh fish and there is no shortage of customers on the quayside. We were doing OK.

When Jesus chose us to be his closest disciples there wasn’t much time for fishing any more, but that didn’t seem to matter. We survived and if I were to tell you some of the amazing things I have experienced you would believe me even less than you do now.

But its true. I have walked for three years with the Son of the living God – and of course I have betrayed him.

Do you ever get the feeling that you are always the last person to catch on? You know what I mean: you have to have the joke explained; you’re the first person at the quay side just after the boat has sailed. Well, that’s me really: bold, courageous, jumping in with both feet only to find I’ve leaped into a pit.

I was the first to proclaim that Jesus was the Son of God, and the first to be called Satan by him. I was the only one who dared to walk on water; nearly drowned in that episode. I listened intently to Jesus’ parables, and then had to have them explained to me. I saw the Glory of God revealed on the mount of transfiguration, and all I could do was mutter something about building a shrine.

I can tell you I nearly walked out at one point. In fact many others did. His teaching was so hard at times. Oh yes, and I was the one who first refused to allow Jesus to wash my feet, and then went on to demand that he washed my hair. Talk about not getting the message!

But he was so patient with me, with all of us, and gradually the truth about his kingdom began to dawn on us. It was going to be a very different kind of kingdom and Jesus was to be a very different kind of king.

And then that night, that night before everything we had hoped and dreamed about came crashing to earth around our ears; or so we thought.

We were at table. It was Passover and we had settled down in anticipation of an evening meal which would last way into the night. That was the custom anyway.

But the night had hardly begun when Jesus began speaking of betrayal. There was a lot of talk, and Judas stormed out in a temper. That was when I told him I would die for him. He just looked at me with those eyes and, quite calmly, said that I would betray him three times before dawn. That hurt. After all we had been through how could he have had so little faith in me? But he was right.

Everything happened so fast. We had left the upper room and had made our way over to the Mount of Olives. Most of us were having a doze; one or two had drunk a little too much wine. All of a sudden we were surrounded by temple guards, armed to the teeth, and a hostile mob with clubs, sticks and stones. They overpowered Jesus and dragged him off. I heard some one shout that he was being taken to the high priest’s house. That could only mean one thing.

We were scattered to the four winds, running for our very lives. I was able to sneak away through the olive groves and get back into the city. I had no idea what had happened to the others.

I managed to get amongst a group of people who were gathering in the courtyard of the high priest’s house. They had lit a fire – a warm spring night had suddenly become very cold.

One by one, members of the Sanhedrin began to appear and enter the house. There were raised voices, shouting even. I heard someone shout “Blasphemy!” And my heart sank. They had got him.

Just then a servant girl came past and looked at me. “Hey, I know you” she said, “You’re part of that group that goes around with Jesus of Nazareth”. I denied it. I couldn’t think what to do. Big, bold Simon Peter was terrified for his life.

But she kept on, “Yes you are. I’ve seen you with him. Hey, call the guards. He’s one of those people!” I denied it again. She was beginning to draw attention to me. I told her she didn’t know what she was talking about. That might have been an end of it but then someone else started up, “Yes you are. I can tell by your accent, you’re a northerner, a Galilean!”

I had just finished shouting “I tell you I have never met this Jesus of Nazareth in my life!” when they brought him down the steps from the house – and, along with everyone else, I froze. He had already taken a severe beating. His clothes were torn and he was cut and bruised. But he looked straight at me with those eyes – just for a second, before they dragged him away. That was when I knew I had betrayed my master and my closest friend.

The cock crowed, the sun came up but I was in the darkest place on earth. I fled for my life, again. I don’t know how long I wept for, but it was a long time.

They took him to the Roman governor. Pilate is a cruel man, but he’s not that bright; not exactly the sharpest chisel in the toolbox. The high priest is more than a match for him. The Sanhedrin persuaded Pilate to execute Jesus for treason. See what I mean? They arrest him on a charge of blasphemy against God but persuade Pilate that, really, he’s an enemy of Caesar! Well, that did the trick.

I couldn’t watch. Some of the women went and sat at the foot of the cross for the whole sordid episode. I think John was there too. I just went and hid. It didn’t take very long. From Passover celebration to the burial of our Lord took less than 24 hours. And I knew it was my fault. I could have spoken up for him.

But I didn’t, and that was that. I had my chance, and I blew it, completely.

At least that was what I thought.

Two mornings later those of us who were left were gathered together in one house, hiding for fear of the temple guards, when some of the women came rushing in to say that Jesus’ body had disappeared. I just couldn’t believe it. They kept on about seeing him alive, but they weren’t making much sense. So I rushed over to the place where he had been laid and, sure enough, the stone had been rolled away and the tomb was empty. Not a sign of the body; just a few linen cloths lying around.

But the women insisted that they had seen him alive and, incredible though it may seem, they were right. Jesus was alive, and we all saw him on more than one occasion. I still struggle to take it all in. I can only tell you what I know to be true.

Others can give you the details but I can say for certain that Jesus died on that cross on the eve of the Sabbath, but is alive and has shown himself to us many times.

The last time was this morning, here on the lake shore. He even ate breakfast with us. And it was this morning that I learned that I’m forgiven. I must admit that up until then I didn’t know if Jesus, this risen Lord, would ever really accept me. But this morning he asked me, three times no less, how much I loved him.

I told him.

“Tend my sheep. Be a shepherd for me” he said as he looked at me with those eyes again. He asked me to lead his people. I, who had betrayed the Son of God to save my own skin, was to be the shepherd of his flock.

I don’t know what the future will hold, and I am pretty sure I’m not up to the task, but the Son of God has given me a job to do. I will do it as best I can, but I hope he’ll give me a little help along the way.

Its funny when you think about it: the fisherman becoming a shepherd. Well, being a shepherd is just as honourable a trade. I now know that I have a lot to learn. But this I also know: if Jesus can forgive my betrayal then all things are possible.

NJC