Tuesday 16 October 2007

Judas / Priest

In a helpful comment to my recent post on Lambeth conference invitations, and Jesus’ refusal to quarantine himself away from his betrayer, the Revd Peter Lear from Northumberland helpfully reminded me of William Barclay’s commentary on the placement of Judas at the Last Supper. It sits poignantly with Jesus tragic prophecy in Mt 10:37 (your foes will be members of your own household) and reflects psalms like 55 and 41:9 — Even my bosom friend in whom I trusted, who ate of my bread, has lifted the heel against me.

The instinct to separate is perfectly rational, and sometimes pragmatically sensible. Jesus never treats his betrayer with anything less than respect, and our salvation comes, partly, from Jesus embracing his betrayer (Giotto, left). Therefore Jesus’ work encompasses the whole tragic sweep of life, and is much more than merely a rational transaction:
We need to try to see how the disciples were placed at that last meal. In the ancient days the guests reclined on low couches, resting on the left elbow, with the right hand free for the work of raising the food and the drink. Usually the couches held three. Clearly John is on Jesus's right, for he was reclining on Jesus' bosom (John 13.23). But the position in which the most favoured guest was placed was on the host's left, for the host would be reclining with his head on the breast of the person on his left. When we read John's narrative, it seems clear that Judas was occupying the place of special honour. At a Passover Feast, amongst other things, there were three things on the table. There was what was called the charosheth, which was a paste made of apples, dates, pomegranates and nuts, and which stood for the clay from which the people had to make bricks in the slavery in Egypt. There were the bitter herbs, such as endive, horse radish, chicory and horehound, which reminded them of the bitterness of slavery. And there was the unleavened bread. At one point in the ceremony some of the bitter herbs were placed between two pieces of unleavened bread, dipped in the charosheth, and eaten. That was called the sop; and for the host personally to make up the sop and hand it to a guest was a mark of signal honour. Jesus handed that sop to Judas (John 13.26), and the likeliest place for Judas to be sitting was next to Jesus. Further, the whole atmosphere of the scene is that Jesus' conversation with Judas was private, that the other disciples certainly did not know, and hardly could hear, what was going on between them.

Willliam Barclay, The Master’s Men, 1959, p69

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