On Wednesday of Holy Week we recall Jesus’ betrayal at the hands of his disciple Judas. It’s a sad story, of Judas’s disappointment about who Jesus was (and was not) and the resentment he allowed to build up in his heart. And so it stands as a warning to us, who also try to follow Jesus but also often find ourselves surprised and even disappointed with the ways he doesn’t go along with our prejudices and political preferences. But, as John tells story, it is also in its own way a theophany, a revelation of the glory of God. It’s a strange idea that is worth some reflection today.
John explicitly ties Jesus’ betrayal to the teaching we reflected on yesterday. There, when two Gentiles come wishing to speak to Jesus, he responds by saying that it was time for “the Son of Man to be glorified” and then explained this with his teaching on the wheat that bears its fruit in dying. Now today, once Jesus reveals that Judas will betray him to the authorities and Judas leaves the Upper Room where they are gathered, Jesus uses precisely the same language to explain what has happened: “Now the Son of Man has been glorified…” But, even more surprisingly, he develops this thought further: “… and God has been glorified in him.” (John 13.31).
Here we see that idea, so typical of John’s Gospel, that what happens to Jesus happens to God in him. Jesus is the revelation of God’s glory and this glory is revealed in betrayal, conspiracy, and ultimately, in the cross. Even after two thousand years of sitting with this language, it’s an idea that still confounds us. To the Greek world into which the Gospel sprung, it was nothing less than scandalous and a contradiction in terms. Greek culture was, to a large extent, a culture of glory and shame. The word for glory, doxa, meant ‘fame’ and ‘reputation,’ especially that earned on the battle-field, but also in success in athletics, arts, or politics. This is the opposite of the shame of betrayal, being conspired against, arrested, mocked, tortured, and put to death. And yet, this is precisely how Jesus understands his own glory and the glory of God by extension. Everything that happens next does not hide or mar God’s glory; it reveals it.
This is why Martin Luther was right in his insistence that Christians abandon any ‘theology of glory’ — theologies based in human ideas of glory involving victory, success, and wealth — for the theology of the cross. For it is the way of the cross that reveals God. It is from the cross that we come to understand God’s true fame and reputation. Of course, as we saw yesterday and will see again on Sunday, the cross is not the end of the story. There is victory and new life, but this is only through the humble, self-emptying, glorifying shame of the cross. To quote the wonderful words of Jürgen Moltmann once again:
The only idea of God — the only vision of hope — the only act that can be called Christian is the one that can endure before the face of the dying, forsaken Christ. (Experiences of God, 15)
Once again, we see that God’s ways are not our ways. Where we see embarrassment, loss, and shame, God sees glory.
This struggle between the ways of earthly glory and the ways of the cross is ever-present, in society at large, within the Church, and within our own hearts. May we reject and repent of any tendency within us to grasp for gilded models of success that we may more faithfully pursue the humble ways of God’s glory.