Matthew 26:14-25 (NRSVCE)
Then one of the twelve, who was called Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and said, “What will you give me if I betray him to you?” They paid him thirty pieces of silver. And from that moment he began to look for an opportunity to betray him.
On the first day of Unleavened Bread the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Where do you want us to make the preparations 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 near; I will keep the Passover at your house with my disciples.’” So the disciples did as Jesus had directed them, and they prepared the Passover meal.
When it was evening, he took his place with the twelve; and while they were eating, he said, “Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me.” And they became greatly distressed and began to say to him one after another, “Surely not I, Lord?” He answered, “The one who has dipped his hand into the bowl with me will betray me. The Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that one by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that one not to have been born.” Judas, who betrayed him, said, “Surely not I, Rabbi?” He replied, “You have said so.”
“Surely not I, Lord?” Notice the uncertainty behind these words. All of the disciples repeat these words. When Jesus says “It would have been better for that one not to have been born,” even Judas has the realization: “Surely not I?” The disciples love Jesus. Even Judas loved Jesus, at least at one time. None of them thought themselves capable of something so terrible that it would have been better if they had never been born! And yet here Jesus is telling them plainly that one of them will betray him.
I can’t help but think here about our own walk with Christ. We all do our best to follow him, we all do our best to love him with all we are. But when Jesus tells us that one of us will turn on him, will I be sure enough in my faith and my love for Christ that we might have assurance he is not speaking to me? Or, like the disciples, will I realize that I do not love Jesus as much as I ought? Will I instead utter a worried “Surely not I, Lord?” Even Peter, the rock upon which the Church was built, was not strong enough in his faith to cling to Christ, when it came down to it. He denied him not once, not twice, but three times. How must Peter have felt, having just had his faith shaken when he thought for a moment he might be the one to betray Jesus, and now having denied that he ever knew Christ? He must have recalled his “Surely not I, Lord?” in that moment.
It's the last full day of Lent today. Tomorrow is a shortened day, as the Paschal Triduum begins tomorrow evening, at the beginning of the new liturgical day. We have spent the last forty-odd days faithfully adhering to our Lenten fasts, focusing on improving our relationship with Christ. And like a bucket of hammers, we are today hit with this realization that we may not be as faithful as we thought. What if I am one who will betray Jesus? What if I don’t love Jesus as much as I convince myself I do? We go into Good Friday with this at the forefront of our minds: we are the ones who killed Jesus. Ordinary people, scared, unsure of ourselves, unsure of anything, we turned our backs on God. If we hadn’t, the crucifixion would never have happened.
All of Lent is a time for serious spiritual reflection, for contemplating the state of our souls so that we might strengthen our faith and our love for God. But now is that time more than ever, as we approach the remembrance of the crucifixion. Jesus was betrayed by those he loved, he was killed by those he loved. “Surely not I, Lord?”