IT HAPPENS EVERY year. Prior to Easter, I return to the gospel scenes surrounding the death and resurrection of Jesus.
And every year I find myself crossing the Kidron Valley at night to a garden in Gethsemane where Jesus is betrayed by Judas. Betrayed with a kiss.
“Jesus said to him, ‘Friend, do what you came to do.’ Then they came up and laid hands on Jesus and seized him” (Matthew 26:50 ESV).
Simon Peter reacts by drawing his sword and cutting off the right ear of Malchus, the high priest’s servant (John 18:10). I think I would have had my sights on Judas instead.
Jesus is seized and arrested, and so am I. I am seized and arrested by Jesus calling Judas his friend. Friend? I can think of several words other than friend. Jesus knew that Judas was going to betray him (VV 20-25), and we know the betrayal was a fulfillment of prophecy (John 17:12).
Nevertheless, for Jesus to call Judas a “friend” seems preposterous. A real friend doesn’t betray you — especially with a kiss.
In the economy of friendship, it is a reciprocal relationship. There’s a give and take. There are conditions. Jesus expresses such a conditional friendship when he says, “You are my friends if you do what I command you” (John 15:14).
You are my friends “if.” Hmmm.
But in ways that are still beyond my full comprehension, Jesus is able to go beyond the “ifs.” His role in the friendship is unconditional. His role in the friendship does not waver; the only role that can waver is ours.
Jesus didn’t call Judas a friend because of what Judas brought into their relationship; Judas was called a friend because of what Jesus brought into their relationship.
Jesus meant it when he said, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lays down his life for his friends” (John 15:13), which is exactly what he did. But Jesus took it a step further when he said, “For one will scarcely die for a righteous person — though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die — but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:7-9).
Jesus offers preposterous friendship, preposterous love.
Next Friday is Good Friday, the day we humbly recall Jesus laying down his life on a cross to pay for our sins. The old hymn nails it — “What a friend we have in Jesus, all our sins and griefs to bear.”
Jesus is your friend. He has extended his right hand — and his left.
What is your response? To reciprocate, you must reach out to him. Reach out to him, knowing that you have sinned and receive his forgiveness.
Easter is coming. Jesus rose from the dead, and you can walk with him as a friend, now and forever.
Issues of Faith is a rotating column by five religious leaders on the North Olympic Peninsula. The Rev. Greg Reynolds is pastor of Joyce Bible Church. His email is email@example.com.