Preparing for the worst

“If only I had known…”

Have you ever said that to yourself? You walked into a situation completely unaware that something bad was about to happen. You entered into a relationship without knowing that person would deceive and betray you. And in hindsight, you may even begin to question yourself: Why didn’t I see this coming? How could I have been so blind?

Imagine the enthusiasm and anticipation of Jesus’ disciples on Palm Sunday, watching their master enter Jerusalem to the roar of the crowds. Imagine their confidence growing as Jesus spars verbally with his opponents in the temple courts, downing them one by one. He has spoken darkly of his death, but they don’t understand, and focus instead on the victory that seems almost within reach.

Then Judas, one of their privileged inner circle, betrays Jesus and thereby betrays them all.

Just to keep things in perspective, Judas’ betrayal of Jesus is more heinous than his betrayal of his friends. And while the disciples have to face the pain of losing their beloved master, Jesus has to lose his very life as he faces the pain of the cross.

Still, emotions don’t submit easily to such a moral calculus. The agony of betrayal and loss is devastating. Period.

We’ve seen how even when Jesus knows he is about to face the most difficult moments of his life, he acts for the benefit of the disciples whom he loves. Knowing how they will respond to his crucifixion, he humbly washes their feet and explains the importance of self-giving love.

And knowing how they will respond to betrayal, he prepares them for the worst. He has already hinted at Judas’ intent (John 13:10), and now suggests that his command to continue in loving service is not for all of them:

I’m not speaking about all of you. I know those whom I’ve chosen. But this is to fulfill the scripture, The one who eats my bread has turned against me. I’m telling you this now, before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe that I Am. (John 13:18-19, CEB)

Jesus will be even more explicit about Judas’ betrayal in a few moments. But consider the reason he gives for warning them about this in advance. He knows that the next few days will shake their faith to the very core. They could very well berate and blame themselves for not seeing the signs: Why didn’t I see this coming? I knew there was something wrong with Judas. Why didn’t I do something? Maybe I could have prevented all this…

Often, there’s no direct satisfactory answer to Why didn’t I see this coming? We are all capable of our own brand of willful ignorance. But Jesus’ answer to the disciples’ anticipated doubts seems to be: In the end, it doesn’t matter whether you saw it coming. Just remember that I saw it coming, and submitted to it willingly. Don’t fret: believe. 

And believe what? “Believe that I Am.” What the disciples need to know, more than anything else, is that Jesus, the crucified and resurrected one, is God.

When they know that — really know it — everything else will follow.