Bound to Betray … again

[When reflecting on the story of Jesus washing the disciples’ feet in John 13, it is perhaps no surprise that I return to Bruce Cockburn’s “Beautiful Creatures.”]
 
I find myself returning, yet again,
to what may be Bruce Cockburn’s
most painfully vulnerable song,
“Beautiful Creatures.”
 
From the stones of the fortress
To the shapes in the air
To the ache in the spirit
We label despair
We create what destroys
Bind ourselves to betray
The beautiful creatures are going away
 
The singer’s voice breaks as he reaches into a high falsetto
with the refrain, The beautiful creatures are going away.

Why are we in the midst of this culture wide
ache in the spirit
we label despair?
Because …
We create what destroys
Bind ourselves to betray.

There is, somewhere deep in the human heart,
somewhere deep in the profound brokenness of human life,
a binding to betrayal,
a constriction of our freedom,
indeed a binding of our will,
that leads us,
over and over again,
to betrayal.

Jesus knew all about betrayal.

There he is, in an upper room with his disciples.
It is the beginning of the end.
It is the evening before his arrest.
It is his last couple of hours with his friends.

And our narrator tells us that
“The devil had already put it in the heart of
Judas, son of Simon Iscariot to betray him.”
Jesus knew that this betrayal in the room,
was about to be enacted.

So what is Jesus going to do in the face
of such betrayal?

Well, he takes on the mantle of a slave
and washes his disciple’s feet.
All of their feet.
The feet of his betrayer,
and the feet of the one who will deny him.

Before calling his friends
to a discipleship of radical love,
Jesus demonstrates,
incarnates,
makes flesh,
what such love looks like.

Everyone is shocked,
and everyone is uncomfortable.
And then Jesus tells them that
this is what discipleship means.
To wash each other’s feet.
Even the feet of the betrayer in their midst.

I’ve never known how to handle betrayal,
especially within the community of faith.
It has always been the thing that would
most dramatically undermine my faith.

And now I see anew,
almost for the first time,
that betrayal must be met with love,
the one betrayed must wash the dirty,
indeed, blood stained feet of the betrayer.

I’m not sure that I can do that.
But failing to follow and obey Jesus on this,
will be its own betrayal.

We are all bound to betray.
Pray that we are set free from our chains.
Pray that our Lenten journey will liberate us
from our bondage.

Brian Walsh
Brian is an activist theologian and the CRC Campus Minister at the University of Toronto. He engages issues of theology and culture, and has written a couple of books you might want to check out. His most recent offering is entitled Kicking at the Darkness: Bruce Cockburn and the Christian Imagination.

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