Often when reading bible stories, especially the gospel stories, I wonder what parts of the stories didn't get recorded in the gospel account. What stories didn't even make it into one of the gospels? Maybe I'm just a want-to-be-movie-director, but I think this type of pondering can be valuable.
My Friday morning men's breakfast gang (The Bellis Breakfast Boys) often goes off on these "wondering" tangents. What did Jesus and the disciples talk about sitting around the campfire at the end of a long day? Did the other disciples ever let James and John forget the embarrassment of their mother asking Jesus to place her sons at his right hand in glory? Wonder what Jesus' tone of voice was when he often seemed frustrated that his disciples "didn't get it"? ("Will you ever understand?")
I realize (as does my group) the danger of going too far and just fabricating or reading too much into the story. (Our now-deceased elder-statesman and leader Dave Bellis would often caution: "Boys, boys, I think we're getting a bit too far afield!" And, "Remember that speculation is just that ... speculation.") But, such extrapolation can make the stories more meaningful and perhaps give new life to the old stories. As we approach Lent and its culminating Holy Week, I'd like to do a bit of this extending with the Good Friday story.
All the gospel writers tell the story of how, at the Last Supper, Jesus predicted that Peter would deny him, as well as telling of Peter's actual denial when Jesus was first brought in front of the temple authorities — three times "before the cock began to crow".Matt. 26:3-35 & 26:69-75; Mark 14:29-31 & 14:66-72; Luke 22:33-34 & 22:54-62; and John 13:37-38. Luke adds an interesting line, "The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter." (Luke 22:61, NIV) This line got me thinking. I wondered about "the look". Luke doesn't say. But, I can wonder about it.
In most film portrayals of Jesus, his eyes stand out. Piercing, but kind. In the Luke scene above, Jesus says nothing to Peter, but I wonder what his eyes said. I imagine they said conviction: "I was right. You didn't measure up. You failed me. I am hurt." But, I also can imagine Jesus' eyes showing compassion, eyes that say, "I understand, Peter. Please know that I forgive you." Not in the story, but I think it's an image that may be true to an understanding of Jesus. The actual story then adds that Peter went out and wept. (The Matthew, Mark, and Luke accounts.)
All four gospels also tell the story of Judas betraying Jesus to the authorities for "thirty pieces of silver".Matt. 26:47-50; Mark 14:43-45; Luke 22:47-48; and John 18:1-7. Matthew then tells us that when Judas saw that his betrayal led to Jesus being condemned, he "went away and hanged himself." (Matt. 27:27-10.)Luke, in the Book of Acts, gives another but interesting account of Judas' death: Acts 1:18. Matthew's brief statement that Judas "hanged himself" seems to leave room for some of my speculative wondering: Was there more to this story?
I envision a scene taking place between Judas' betrayal of Jesus and his suicide. Perhaps Judas knew of Jesus being condemned because he was there! Maybe he watched the proceedings that sealed Jesus' fate of torture and death. I can imagine that, like in Peter's story, Jesus "looked straight at Judas." Those eyes of conviction and the hurt of betrayal. But, as I imagined with Peter, also Jesus' eyes of compassion ... His eyes that say, "I forgive." And, I see Judas going out to weep. Weeping before ...
Weaving the actual Gospel stories and my speculating more about the stories, we see two disciples, each who had failed Jesus at this critical time. Each looking into those eyes of Jesus. Each seeing and feeling the conviction ... and the compassion. Both given the assuring look of forgiveness. Both went out and wept. One went on to carry the message of Jesus to the world. One hanged himself.
Perhaps one was able to accept divine forgiveness and go on despite his sin. Perhaps the other could not even "see" mercy or accept forgiveness. Maybe he never even saw the eyes of mercy that offered forgiveness. I wonder whether the one who went on in forgiveness ever forgave himself. Maybe just knowing he was forgiven was enough. The other went out and hanged himself.
As we approach the forty-day period of Lent (between Ash Wednesday and Easter), we are called to penitence. In front of God, we acknowledge our sins. It is not a time to compare our goodness and sinfulness to others, not a time to point fingers at the world around us; this is about us. "... We have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed, in what we have done, and by what we have left undone. ..."Book of Common Prayer, 1979, p.352, Penitential Order Rite II.
As we spend time in personal confession, as betrayers and deniers ... as sinners, perhaps we can do so by turning and looking into those eyes of Jesus. It might be obvious to see in those eyes the conviction of our unworthiness, the realization that we don't measure up. But, do we also see the eyes of mercy, compassion, and forgiveness? Perhaps like both Peter and Judas, we leave our time of confession and go out and weep. Can we, though, like Peter accept and internalize the forgiveness that Jesus offers?
I hope that this doesn't make me sound a "downer" type guy; but, Lent is one of my favorite times of the year. (Maybe not so much "favorite" as "meaningful".) As a kid, when I heard the preacher talking about Lent, I couldn't get past thinking about bodily hiding places for lint. Through most of my adult years, I understood the meaning of Lent, but can't say I let it have much of an impact on me. However, the last few years, I've experienced it as a special time.
Maybe, for me it's a special time due to "liturgical" nature of my current Anglican church and its defined sense of flow to the church year. Much of the ritual during Lent seems to force me to assume a penitent posture and come clean with God and with myself. It's the ashes on the forehead, the change in the liturgy to the penitential forms, the crucifix wrapped in a purple-colored netting, the worship service's processional in silence with only a communal recitation of the Ten Commandments. ... And, Lent is a time in the year when the Sanctus we sing is the version by Schubert.
May this Lenten season be a meaningful time, a time to better understand God ... and ourselves. And, may it lead us, with a repentant and forgiven spirit, to a glorious Easter!