One of the greatest pains we can experience is to be betrayed by a friend. Or to know that someone is plotting your destruction, whether on your career, reputation, or even physical life itself. A decade or so ago in US politics there was a phrase used quite a bit, “the politics of personal destruction”. We are seeing it again, both on the left and on the right, and one foul act is followed by more threats and more foul acts. There seems to be no end to it.
Last week in Switzerland I participated in a wonderful evening of good food (Bangladeshi biriani), and we were all given roles in a dramatized story stretching from the Jewish Passover and Exodus from Egypt, to the Last Supper with Jesus and disciples, to a modern day Church meeting. Complicated in the telling, but if you were there very powerful! I played one of the disciples, Thomas to be exact. As we re-enacted that night before Jesus was crucified, the chair that Judas the Betrayer should have occupied was empty. I reflected again on what I wrote about in my last post, how Jesus washed Judas’ feet that night, even knowing that he was about to betray him. (See “If you live as a hermit, whose feet will you wash?”)
But not only did Jesus wash the feet of the one who was plotting His destruction that night, but Jesus also received the kiss of Judas later as a sign of the betrayal. What was it like for Jesus to allow Judas to kiss him, knowing that the person before Him was confirming with this intimate act of affection a commitment to the exact opposite? Have you ever had someone in front of you be very generous and affectionate, only to find out that they were doing the opposite when you were not around? It hurts, and hurts deeply. It is so easy to lash out in kind, or to plot in return vengeance and further betrayal. It is a vicious cycle, and repeats again and again in history and right to the present. It happens of course not only in personal relations, but nation to nation.
It seems so weak to let our betrayer kiss us. To wash their feet seems so spineless and self-destructive. To not raise our hand and strike back seems a pointless act of surrender to evil. To let ourselves be delivered up to enemies and even be crucified seems to only guarantee the furthering of even more darkness.
But we must not give up washing feet. We must not give up letting our betrayers kiss us, whether as individuals or even as nations. Yes, there is so much complexity to this, especially at the national level or in international relations. But we must not stop considering how to love our enemies, whether one neighbor or millions of people. We must not stop washing feet and allowing our enemies to kiss us. If we give up on this, we are left only with a cycle of repetitive violence that will result finally in the destruction of all.
I remember growing up in the US, during the Cold War in relations between particularly the US and Soviet Union. There was an idea called MAD, standing for Mutual Assured Destruction. Though not held by all policy makers (fortunately), it argued that there should be the capability in nuclear weaponry to make sure that the other side would be completely wiped out if they ventured an attack. As a 9 year old boy, I read a frightening book called Failsafe, which very realistically pictured a nuclear confrontation between Moscow and Washington, patterned on the Cuban missile crisis of 1962 but going farther.
Some days at school we had a drill where we had to hide for a short time under our desks when an air raid siren went off, presumably to be safe from some impending nuclear attack by the Soviet Union. (Would being under a desk really save us?) Mercifully, MAD never happened. The world went on after 1962. There are horrible things going on today in places like Syria, but the world at present is not facing a MAD situation. But in our personal relations, and sometimes in larger contexts, actions that contribute to the possibilities of mutual assured destruction do at times happen.
Do not give in to fear or ignorance. Wash the feet of your betrayers. Allow them to kiss you, on one cheek or both. It must not be America First, or any nation first. It must be Loving God and Loving People first, even if we are betrayed, even if we go to a cross. Don’t settle for less, in your life, in your family, in your organization, in your nation, in our world.