One Word from Jesus

A reflection from Matthew 26

by Tim Hodge

In the lead up to Easter 2022, I read through Matthew’s account of that fateful week before Jesus was killed. My reading was intentionally slow, forcing myself to take note of details that I may miss in my usual faster-paced engagement with God’s word. Often, Bible reading nourishes me in the same way that meals nourish me: sustaining but can’t remember the details a week or even a few days later. However, on rare occasion there is a spectacular meal – of physical food or spiritual food from the Bible - that lives on in the memory, and the week before Easter was one such occasion.

Matthew 26 has so much in it! It starts with the religious leaders plotting a way to kill Jesus, delighted when Judas comes to them in secret. From then on Judas watched for an opportunity to hand him (Jesus) over, verse 16. This is the moment Judas becomes an enemy within the group of disciples.

The last supper happens, where Jesus reveals he knows what Judas will do, despite all the protestations of the disciples. They sing a hymn together (v30), and they appear united. Then Jesus declares that all of them will leave him, and pointedly tells Peter in v34 this very night, before the cock crows, you will disown me three times, something Peter ignores. Then in the garden of Gethsamane, Jesus is overwhelmed with sorrow (v38), aware of the enormity of the task ahead. His disciples sleep instead of pray – oh how alike to them am I! There is a change of pace in v46, when Jesus says Rise! Let us go! Here comes my betrayer! He knows it is Judas. He knows what Judas has come to do. Judas gives the pre-arranged sign of identification to the authorities, he approaches Jesus to kiss him, a sign of greeting and intimacy. It’s verse 50 that stopped me in my tracks:
Jesus replied, ‘Do what you came for, friend.’

It’s the single word that I’ve been meditating on for the last few days.
Jesus doesn’t say ‘betrayer’
Jesus doesn’t say ‘scumbag’
Jesus doesn’t say ‘traitor’
Jesus doesn’t lash out with a Will Smith style slap
Jesus doesn’t lash out with a sword, like one of Jesus’ companions in the very next verse.
Instead of any of that, Jesus replies ‘friend’.

Jesus is the creator of the universe (Colossians 1) and he calls Judas, who he created, friend. Some have suggested Jesus says ‘friend’ sarcastically. I’m not convinced, given the context and the compassion of Jesus in healing the guard’s ear in the following verses. Instead, the tone of Jesus here is warm and relational. Disappointed, for sure, yet also deeply loving. That is amazing and has amazed me all week.

I have the honour of working with the Tertiary Students Christian Fellowship (TSCF) student mission, helping university students explore the amazing claims of Jesus. At Easter time I’ll ask students why we have stat holidays. Invariably, both international students and New Zealand students take a long time to get to Jesus, with most having no idea why Good Friday is ‘Good’.

Matthew 26:50 is the answer – friend.
Jesus calls Judas, the very one who betrayed him, friend.
Jesus calls me, the very one who betrays him like Judas and denies him like Peter, friend.
Jesus calls tertiary students all over Aotearoa, those who ignore him, those who reject him, friend.
Jesus calls sinners like you and me, friend.

It’s remarkable and amazing. What can we do but thank the very same One who was physically with Judas? He who death could not hold; he who died on the Friday but rose to life again on the Sunday. He who we, by the Spirit, live for and speak for in the communities in which he has placed us.

Our times are not so different to the times of that first Easter of Matthew 26: The majority of my neighbours have no interest in Jesus. Some actively set out to discredit him. Those of us who do claim to follow Jesus are too often like Judas and Peter, betraying and denying. Yet to us, Jesus says ‘friend’.

In the words of Irish/Canadian 19th century poet Joseph Scriven (sung to me by ‘The Sing Team’ as I write!):

What a friend we have in Jesus
All our sins and griefs to bear
Can we find a friend so faithful
Who will all our sorrows share?

Yes, we can find a friend so faithful. His name is Jesus and he calls me his friend

(Photo by Francesco Alberti on Unsplash)

Tim Hodge

Tim Hodge was one of the ‘guinea pigs’ for Arrow back when the programme was relaunched in 2013. His day job is with TSCF student mission: encouraging and training staff across the nation. With his whānau he’s part of a new church plant, Springs Community Church, in the rapidly-growing community in which Jesus his friend has placed him in Selwyn, Canterbury.

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