Surely Not I
Now on the first day of Unleavened Bread the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Where will you have us prepare for you to eat the Passover?” He said, “Go into the city to a certain man and say to him, ‘The Teacher says, My time is at hand. I will keep the Passover at your house with my disciples.’ ” And the disciples did as Jesus had directed them, and they prepared the Passover.
When it was evening, he reclined at table with the twelve. And as they were eating, he said, “Truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me.” And they were very sorrowful and began to say to him one after another, “Is it I, Lord?” He answered, “He who has dipped his hand in the dish with me will betray me. The Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that man if he had not been born.” Judas, who would betray him, answered, “Is it I, Rabbi?” He said to him, “You have said so.”
Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.” And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.
Passover is the great feast of Judaism. Even in the ancient world, everyone would want to spend at least one Passover in Jerusalem, in the shadow of the Temple. Josephus, writing in the first century AD, estimated that well over two million would be in the sacred city for the festival.
No wonder! Here was the remembrance of the great act of God in liberating the Hebrews from Egyptian bondage. Here was the transforming of Israel from a people of slavery into a great nation. Here is the goodness of God writ large. This feast was at the very core, the very heart of the very identity of Israel.
So it is that Jesus meets with his disciples, this inner dozen, to recline around a table and eat together. All the ceremony, the bitter herbs, the unleavened bread and the wine. Words made familiar over the course of the preceding centuries, until Jesus abruptly goes off script: “this is my body, this is my blood”.
And then he tells his disciples that one of them will betray him.
The room is flabbergasted. What on earth would you say to that? The interesting thing, the interesting phrase is their response “Is it I, Lord”. It’s been ringing round my head.
The easy thing would have been to cast a suspicious glance at someone else in the room. Look, there’s Judas. Never trusted him, and I’m sure that moneybag is getting lighter. And Peter, he’s such a hothead! I’m sure he would do something daft. As for that John, always close to Jesus. It’s often the closest associates who betray you.
No. They heard the bombshell and asked “is it I, Lord”?
Oh, how quick are we to blame others? Flinging accusations around and pointing the trembling finger of blame? Should we not rather be looking at ourselves? Don't hold grudges, and be as forgiving as your saviour.
That isn’t what stuck in my mind, though. The thing which really struck me was the fact that there were not sure if it was them! They honestly thought they could betray Jesus, and that is a disturbing thought. I am sure that as you read this you are convinced that you would never betray Christ, but they were not so sure. “Is it I, Lord”?
When Paul was writing to the church in Philippi, he advised them:
Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.
“Work out your own salvation”. The Christian faith is something we need to continue to nurture, lest the coals grow dim and the pressures of life quench out the final, flickering flame. It takes time, it takes habit but we don’t have to do it alone, because in the end our salvation relies on God and not on us. As Paul continues: “It is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure”. God works in us, and even places the ‘will’ (or desire) in us. It is perfectly legitimate to pray “Lord make me want to know you more”!
Oh may we never be so complacent that we cannot ask the question: “is it I, Lord?”, but let us never be so fearful that we forget that it is God who works in us. Rather, let us work with God and tend the seedling of faith within us. It may be small, but God isn’t! It will grow.