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As I prepared myself for communion, the words cut like an icy scalpel …
“On the night that Jesus was betrayed…”.

Betrayal strikes at the very nerve center of our sense of reality. Betrayal, like cancer hides under many guises…emotional, financial, political, intellectual and even spiritual. We can feel betrayed by family, acquaintances, work colleagues or even by institutions. But when an intimate soul friend or a spiritual leader violates our trust, we suffer a unique kind of spiritual betrayal. The Bible chronicles the treacherous betrayal of David by King Saul, a trusted father figure and later his own son, Absalom. Then, because of his affair with Bathsheba, David himself becomes the traitor! Whether as a victim or perpetrator, most of us will eventually have first-hand knowledge of betrayal.

All of my guards were down when the betrayal came to light. It left me breathless like a swimmer who has taken in too much water. The emotional air inside me was being over saturated by an avalanche of painful disclosures. Like searching through fog, I tried to understand how I’d been abducted to this island of desolation.

In the emotional haze of betrayal, there are hard questions. Similar to the process of grief, even questions that may never yield real answers need to be given voice. Why would such an intimate friend betray me? Where did such distorted interpretations and malice come from? Will I ever regain my sense of relational equilibrium? Should I ever trust again? These questions can taunt us for months or eventually lead us to bitterness, if not for the Father’s gentle, yet persistent pursuit to bring us out this spiral staircase that leads to no good end.

In the midst of this kind of emotional vortex, we may be prone to default to our childhood training that says to be “quick to forgive”. While humility is important in the process of forgiving, deep betrayal often unleashes not only the desire for justice, but also the hunger for retribution. Hastily offered forgiveness can be little more than a face-saving device that blinds us to this sinister desire in our hearts. Superficial forgiveness can circumvent this honest soul search and open the unsuspecting heart to the invisible seed of revenge. Like David, we must always ask the divine Counselor to, “Search me and know my heart…see if there is any offensive way in me…” (Ps 139:24)

In the train wreck of betrayal, the Savior offers another way to assess the collateral damage. Taking seriously His words to “Take the plank out of your own eye” (Matt 7:3) allows us to uncover our own habits of sin. Recognizing unhealthy patterns of idealizing people, demanding perfection or living in denial may be the kind of relational anesthesia we’ve used to avoid facing our own brokenness. By discovering the subtle ways that we avoid facing the “offensive” truth in our hearts (Ps 139:24), we are compelled to press into God’s mercy in much deeper ways. This process also enables us to begin to learn to love others as they really are, rather than, as we wish they were. Jesus calls us to love the brethren with a ‘sincere love’ (I Pet 22) that sees both the sanctified and yet-to-be sanctified parts of one another.

After such soul surgery, Jesus also calls us to extravagant forgiveness of the betrayer. We are compelled to forgive even our “enemy” (Matt 5:44) by the very one who experienced the ultimate betrayal. He knows the pain of not being “seen” accurately, of having His motives misinterpreted, His character maligned and being on the fringe of the power center of His culture. He well understands the start limits of human love. This is why He is our sympathetic High Priest who speaks tenderly to the Father about His children who have been violated by the sin of others (Heb 4:16).

Moving forward in forgiving is a choice we make many times depending on the level of betrayal. How much, Peter asked, should he forgive? Jesus said, “Seventy times seven” (Matt 18:21). Recognizing that everyone, by proxy, have been co-conspiritors in the death of Christ, Paul exhorts us that we are to forgive “each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” (Eph 4:32). Put simply, the essence of forgiveness is our decision to release the offender into God’s care. We trust that His parenting of them is far from over and that He alone will deal with their character flaws just as He is dealing with ours.

But Jesus sets an even higher standard, to love those who may still functionally be an “enemy” (Mt 5:44). The choice to ‘love’ one who still outwardly opposes you does not necessarily mean granting them further access to your life. In fact, wisdom would never suggest that unless there has been deep remorse and ownership on their part. Nevertheless, forgiveness encompasses not rejoicing “when your enemy falls”, and “not letting your heart be glad when he stumbles.” (Pr 24:17). Our heart must resist taking any pleasure in future troubles they may experience. Only then might we learn to pray for our enemies with a true spirit of total forgiveness.

Jesus understands the sting of betrayal in the most intimate of settings. “Now Judas, who betrayed him knew the place because Jesus had often met there with his disciples…” (Jn 18:2) The garden was a sacred place for Jesus and his closest friends. It was a safe place to pray and share life in the kingdom with His dear soul friends. Surely we might assume that such intimacy offers us a hedge against betrayal. But we are not like Jesus who knew what was in man’s heart.

Sadly even in places of spiritual intimacy, betrayal can slip in unnoticed. Like Judas, our intimacy with Jesus is no guarantee that we won’t betray Him. Although my betrayals may be more subtle, they are just as treacherous. When I choose a manic pace of life that undermines communion with Jesus, I betray the sweetness of His abiding Presence. Or like Judas, when I hunger for or fret about material abundance rather than living fully for the Kingdom, I deny God’s provision for my daily needs. When I try to earn my sense of spiritual self-esteem from performing rather than simply drawing near to Him, I betray His unconditional acceptance of my brokenness. Or, like Peter, when I project a false confidence to hide my inadequacies and fears, I deny that apart from Him I can accomplish nothing of eternal value. Whenever I glory in my talents, gifts or spiritual success rather than boast in my weaknesses that His power might be evident, I deny His sufficiency. And when my natural propensity is not to decrease so that He might increase, I betray the humility of the Savior who died a despised criminal on my behalf.

Oh yes the seeds of betrayal are hidden in each of us. The spiritual tragedy is that we betray the Savior whenever we fail to recognize ourselves as fellow traitors who live every day in collusion with a culture of self promotion and autonomy. May we draw ever closer to our sympathetic High Priest who wants to transform our divided heart into one that beats only for Him.

O Father, our only hope is in the grace…”the amazing grace of the Master Jesus Christ, the extravagant love of God, the intimate friendship of the Holy Spirit…”
(2 Cor 13:14, The Message).

Holy Spirit, I open myself to you. Show me the ways I, too, have been the betrayer. Reveal ways I grieve you Holy Spirit in my attitudes or actions toward my family, my friends, my spiritual leaders or mentors, my colleagues at work. Is there lack of forgiveness, malice or bitterness in my heart toward those who have wronged me? Do I isolate myself from the body of Christ rather than humbly show my sin and weakness? Do I project myself as a spiritual guru?

How have I betrayed your call to be salt and light in this generation? Show me what I have left undone that you have clearly called me to do. Show me my self reliance through the personality sins of spiritual pride, people pleasing, and fear of failure or spiritual apathy. Show me how numbness or escapism has crept in through fantasy, materialism, greed, time usage or cultural compromise.


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