There is a common saying in Tamil (a South Indian language) that it is alright to pardon an enemy or an oppressor, but one should never forgive a betrayer. I think that this proverb makes sense as it is indeed very difficult to accept betrayal, especially as betrayal fundamentally means that it comes from a friend or a trusted person, rather than a stranger or a foe. Few experiences in life could be more hurting or traumatic as to come face to face with a betrayer, even more so with the awareness of what the person has done or is doing.
In a way, this is how Jesus must have felt in the Garden of Gethsemane. Let us try to imagine and re-visualize the situation Jesus was in. With his now-unavoidable death looming around the corner, and the humiliating nature of that death, having to meet this brutal end through the betrayal of his close follower – his disciple – could have only increased the hurt and pain of Jesus. In other words, I believe that Jesus’ suffering was not limited to the actual act of crucifixion, but also included the pain of being betrayed. Remember that Judas Iscariot, the disciple who betrayed Jesus Christ, according to the gospels was the one who had the money bag; he was the group’s ‘Treasurer,’ a job normally given to a trustworthy person! And yet, it is this trusted person who decided to switch sides for the sake of ‘money,’ or perhaps more money, to be precise. And the means of his betrayal is equally interesting, a kiss which is a common sign of love! It seems ironical that Judas chose a sign of friendship as his signal for the armed crowd (meaning the state police machinery) to capture Jesus. In such circumstances, given Jesus’ emphasis on love and his closeness with his disciples and his followers, we can understand the unbearable sorrow Jesus must have felt in the Garden of Gethsemane. No wonder that he desperately calls upon his closer circle (or possibly the remnant) of disciples to stay awake and pray!
The disciples though, were too tired to stay awake and Jesus had to rely on his Father for comfort and strength. In fact, the synoptic gospel writers mention that he prayed thrice – numerically signifying perfection of his prayers. And each time, despite his prayer pleading for the possibility of avoiding the cross, the scripture is clear that Jesus did not seek to escape the impending suffering. Rather, Jesus’ prayer was of total surrender to God the Father, completely trusting and depending on his Father’s love and support. After the prayer(s) we can see that there is a marked and significant change in the attitude of Jesus, from the “distressed and troubled,” “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow” (Mark 14: 33 – 34; NRSV) to “Look the Son of Man is delivered into the hands of sinners. Rise! Let us go! Here comes my betrayer!” (Mark 14: 41 – 42; NRSV). It appears that his sincere and self–surrendering prayer had a profound effect on Jesus, so that he was able to ‘go’ and meet the realities of life, notwithstanding their painfulness.
I believe that these words of Jesus Christ continue to speak to us today as we often come across the reality of betrayals, of being stabbed by those whom we consider as friends, abandonment and so on in our lives. Amidst these realities, Christ’s courage inspires us to rise up and say to ourselves and others, “Let’s go!” But as we see in Jesus, such courage and strength is not possible without prayer. We are reminded of this truth especially during the season of lent, that spending time in the presence of God and praying is imperative for us to face the struggles of life. Too often for many of us, prayer is a pile of words that is uttered mechanically without paying attention to the content. During this lent, may we make a commitment to say our prayers consciously, entrusting our lives in the hands of God. And on occasions when we don’t find words to pray, we may just remain silent and quietly rest in God assured of his ever enduring grace that – in the words of St. Paul – it would be sufficient for us and God’s strength would empower us in our weaknesses. In prayer, may we receive courage and determination like Christ, to ‘arise and go’ and take on the challenges of life!