Sitting at table

This is another blog based on my experiences at Monte de los Olivos, the little church I attend here in Ayacucho. This comes from a sermon offered by Paco this past Sunday. True to his seminary-professor self, a few moments were highly technical.

Preaching on the passage Matthew 26: 31-49, more commonly known as The Last Supper, he discussed the connection between this passage and the liberation of the Jews in Exodus. As he put it, you cannot ignore the prior story of liberation if you want to understand this passage.

He also touched on several other technical elements of the story and brought up many a hermeneutical point.

While his point on The Last Supper-Exodus parallel was helpful to my own understanding, I was most moved in my own thoughts by an attempt to bring us, the listeners into the story.

On two different occasions, he spoke about our connections to the story.

First, he spoke about the disciples’ reaction after Jesus announces that one of them would betray him that night. Raising his voice to imitate a disciple, or really anyone trying to clear their name, he said, “¿Quién, yo?” or “Who, me?”

Humorous though it might be, Paco said, we can all relate to the disciples here. Jesus has just dropped a bit of a bomb and their first thought is their own part in what Jesus has brought up. They want to make sure they are not the betrayer “whom it’d be better if they were never born.” It makes sense. Betraying Jesus would definitely mess with your chances at salvation, even if it was prophesied.

After that, Paco moved through the story, discussing Judas. He laughed at Judas’ decision to name himself after Jesus explains that the betrayer was the one who put his hands in the bowl. Admittedly, he would make a terrible mole. Paco did not focus on Judas, however, he moved onto how Jesus must have felt.

Specifically, he asked us to consider how we would act in Jesus’ position. Could we remain so calm with our betrayer sitting at the same table?

Honestly, I really don’t like those comparisons. There’s too many things about ours’ and Jesus’ life that are way too different for these comparisons to carry any weight. For one thing, Jesus had a lot more on his plate at the moment. Specifically, that he knew he would die within 24 hours and it was all part of “the plan.” That’s not something with which anyone has experience and ignoring it might help bring you closer, but it is bringing you closer to a different story.

Still, I want to entertain the comparison. If we think in terms of scale and scale down from what Jesus was experiencing, I can see how a place for Paco’s question: “Could we remain so calm with our betrayer sitting at the same table?”

Let’s consider the fact that none of us, save a select few living far more exciting lives than me, have or will ever sit at a table with someone whose betrayal would mean our death. More likely, we might sit with one who has betrayed our trust through lies or even more likely “tattled” on us for our own wrongdoing. I’ll focus on the first, because that betrayal does not involve a personal shortcoming and is therefore closer to Jesus.

Lies are terrible. They can ruin trust in even the deepest friendships. Yet, we are capable of sitting at a table with them. It’s uncomfortable, sure, but it’s not impossible. When needed, we can manage a conversation with little or no moments of anger.

Now put that in Jesus’ situation. Cause it’s Jesus, everything is inflated by a large factor. The betrayal will lead to Jesus’ death. The betrayal comes at the hands of one who swore to follow him, not a friend. The betrayal is also part of some greater plan. Most importantly though, this betrayal carries much more weight.

And Jesus, being Jesus, is able to manage with about as much grace as we can manage being around a liar. In fact, I’d say Jesus manages even better than we might in our scaled down equivalent situation.

So as Paco preached on about each moment of the passage, working verse by verse like a good seminarian, I pondered what message there was in making this comparison. I came away with, “all things are more extreme” with Jesus.

A bigger betrayal? A larger level of forgiveness. Like most messages in this blog, this isn’t a new one: “Jesus and the triune God’s love is extreme.” Still, I’ve never arrived at the point through this route and as my high school physics teacher, Mr. Prziedwiecki used to say, “There’s more than one way to skin a cat.” And like complex mathematical proofs, I feel more assured that I can find more than one path to this message.

And how does that message get applied? Through grace. If Jesus could sit at the table with Judas, arguably his greatest betrayer, then Jesus, God, and the Holy Spirit can sit at table with us no matter our “pre-existing conditions.”

Again, not original, but so powerful when truly taken to heart. In fact, it’s unsettling. Consider the greatest sinners of our time, such as Abimael Guzman who led the Shining Path in Peru or President Fujimori who led the violent government response to the Shining Path. God could sit at table with them and even those who have sinned even more, even when we could not.

I do not know whether we are called to welcome those individuals. Still, I do know that we can take heart knowing that God can and does offer us a seat at the table no matter our history of shortcomings.

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