Facing Our Betrayals – A Sermon On John 13:21-32 For Wednesday In Holy Week

It’s hard to read today’s gospel (John 13:21-32) and not talk about betrayal. It sits in front of us like bread on the table. So I’m not going to try to avoid the subject. I want us to face our betrayals. I want us to confront some of the truths and challenges raised by our betrayals.

I think that’s a part of what Jesus was doing in yesterday’s gospel when “he departed and hid from them.” And I think it’s what he’s doing in today’s gospel when he says, “Very truly, I tell you one of you will betray me.” His confrontation with betrayal has left him “troubled in spirit.” He’s agitated, stirred up, and shaken. Betrayal and a troubled spirit go together like bread and the oil in which it is dipped.

What do you hear when Jesus says, “One of you will betray me”? Most times I hear those words as a finger pointing at me. Maybe you do too. Sometimes I am the betrayer and I need to pay attention to that. But today I want us to pay attention to the times when you and I have been the betrayed.

Haven’t there been times when you felt betrayed? What happened? Who or what in your life has betrayed you? And what did that do to you? When have you betrayed yourself? What relationships have you lost to betrayal? What events or circumstances have betrayed you? In what ways have you felt betrayed by life? When have you felt forsaken and betrayed by God? When has betrayal left you agitated, shaken, and disturbed?

All of us suffer betrayal at times. It’s a form of loss and what is lost is innocence, trust, a relationship, a future. The greater the betrayal the more we tend to distrust others, the world, sometimes even ourselves. Sometimes a specific betrayal gets generalized and it’s not just that individual, place, or institution we no longer trust, it’s all people, places, and institutions. The world is not safe. (Hollis, Swamplands of the Soul, 47-50)

Sometimes we experience betrayal as an isolation or a devaluing of ourselves and consequently we avoid intimacy and authenticity. Sometimes we respond with bitterness, anger, even violence. Sometimes we just can’t let go of what happened and we want to balance the books, but that only binds us to the past. The betrayal wound can also distort existing and future relationships. We assume the other – whether a person, an institution, or God – will betray us again. We live with suspicion, paranoia, or scapegoating. Perhaps the most painful betrayal, however, is the one in which I find myself a participant in the collusion that led to the betrayal. (Ibid.)

At some level we pick our own betrayer. Isn’t that what happened to Jesus? We shouldn’t be surprised that it was one of the twelve, one of his friends. Who else could it have been? “We can only be deceived by those we trust.” (Ibid. 47) We can only be betrayed by those we love or to whom we entrust ourselves. 

The inherent risk of every relationship is betrayal. The question isn’t whether we will suffer betrayal. The question is: What do we do with our betrayals? How do we respond? Jesus also dealt with those questions. 

We tend to focus on Judas as the exclusive betrayer in the life of Jesus. But betrayal is something Jesus dealt will all through his life, as do we, and it started early with King Herod wanting to kill him. (Matthew 2:1-16) Later his family tried to restrain him because others were saying he had “gone out of his mind.” (Mark 3:21-22). His hometown of Nazareth wanted to “hurl him off the cliff.” (Luke 4:29) 

For Jesus Holy Week is a cascade of betrayals. After Judas leaves the table in today’s gospel Jesus tells Peter, “Very truly, I tell you, before the cock crows, you will have denied me three times” (John 13:38). And Peter does. When Jesus is arrested “all the disciples deserted him and fled” (Matthew 26:56). The religious authorities persuaded the crowd to turn on him. (Matthew 27:20) Only his mother, John, and a few other women were at the crucifixion. And on the cross he experienced the ultimate betrayal, saying, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me” (Matthew 27:46)?

What does Jesus do with his betrayals? Here are some things that strike me about how Jesus responds:

  • He never fights back. He may be hurt but he will not hurt another. 
  • He stays true to himself and the path before him. 
  • He continues to love. “He loved them to the end” (John 13:1).
  • He neither excludes nor rejects anyone. Though he seems to have known that Judas would betray him, he still washed Judas’ feet just as he washed the feet of the other disciples. 
  • He doesn’t take it personally. When the hometown crowd wanted to hurl him off the cliff “he passed through the midst of them.” (Luke 4:30)
  • He has no need to justify, defend, or prove himself. He remained silent when questioned by Pilate. 
  • He doesn’t criticize, judge, or accuse those who betray him.
  • He acknowledges that they don’t know what they are doing and he prays God to forgive them. (Luke 23:34)

All this week I’ve been reminding us that Holy Week is a week of conflict, confrontations, and choices. The confrontation today, however, is not with our betrayer. It’s with ourselves and what has happened. What betrayal troubles your spirit today? What are you doing with it? And how might it be a part of your Holy Week journey? 

That betrayal, whatever it is and however it came about, is somehow a part of your and my Easter. I don’t know how, I only know that it was for Jesus and I trust that it is for you and me too.

Image Credit:Night Had Fallen” by Lawrence OP is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.


  1. Thank you, Father Marsh. Thank you for helping me see how my betrayals (as a betrayer and betrayed) have held on to me for much of my life. Thank you for reminding me that I am not alone. That we all hurt and hurt others. And that Jesus knows this is a part of our walk – far too intimately.
    Peace to you.

    Liked by 1 person

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