As a pastor preparing a Sunday morning sermon, one of the hardest parts is knowing what to leave out. Because, believe me, we could add so much more. In fact, that is really one of the beautiful things about scripture. Even after thousands of years of being read, studied, and taught, this fountain of life never seems to end. Thus, on a Sunday morning our prayer is that the main message of a passage is preached and reaches you afresh.
On the other hand, blogs likes this allow us to dig a little deeper, or really just follow the rabbit trails we find interesting. Our hope is that you will also will find them not only interesting but edifying to your study of the scriptures and love of God’s Word.
This week I spent some time studying Matthew 26:30-56. This text is so rich, as we catch a glimpse into Jesus’ prayerful walk with the father, though all others fall away. It is one of the most emotional and climactic moments in Jesus’ life. After this moment of submission to the father’s will, everything else seems like a concomitant event. While this is no doubt the main purpose in Matthew’s writing, this week I was struck by Jesus’ conversation with Judas in Matthew 26:49-50.
We all know Judas is a complicated guy to say the least. He is the very definition of betrayal. Not only that, but Jesus’ knows it beforehand! And yet, in verse 50 we read that Jesus calls him “friend”. It is this relational designation that I found fascinating this week.
When we look a little closer at this word, “friend,” we notice that Matthew chooses an uncommon New Testament greek word. In fact, in all the New Testament this word is only used two other times. Both of which are found in Matthew.
Matthew 20:13 – “Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius?” In this parable of the laborers in the vineyard the friend is the one who worked for the master, but didn’t think like the master. To him the master wasn’t fair.
Matthew 22:12 – “Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding garment?” Here at the end of the wedding feast parable, the friend is one who was invited to the banquet but doesn’t show up as he should. A party crasher of sorts. In other words he was in, but not fully aligned with the king.
So now in Matthew 26:50, Jesus is no longer referring to a parable but his walk to the cross. The friend is Judas. And all along, these two previous stories have been preparing us to know the sort of person we find in Judas. He is a friend but not the sort of friend we might think.
Though we have lost some of the classical meaning of friendship, in the first century true friendship was among the highest virtues. And when compared to Matthew’s word choice a different word for friendship would often be used. A word related more toward love than anything else. Euripides will say that these sort of friends share “one soul,” or that they have the same values and see the world the same way. Aristotle will similarly say that friends hold all things in common.
C.S. Lewis further makes an important distinction between co-operation or camaraderie and true friendship. He observes that true friendship lies in asking the question, “Do you care about the same truth?” Those who find themselves caring about the same thing and loving the same thing immediately find the true bond of friendship present.
But here in Matthew 26:50, the unusual use of the word for friend makes the attentive reader take pause and highlight the different relationship between Jesus and Judas. The previous two parables in Matthew prepare us to see this coming distinction. Judas is not a true friend, but a mere comrade. He is with Jesus, but he doesn’t see like Jesus, and he doesn’t love like Jesus.
Judas is not the sort of friend who loved what Jesus loved, instead he was the sort of friend that was there when it matched his priorities. He didn’t love like Jesus loved, and that was at the root of his betrayal. And we are left asking, what sort of friend are we?