Good Friday

Good Friday is about many things. I want to talk about one thing. I want to talk about betrayal.

It seems to me that much of our formative learning takes place early on the playground of elementary school. At least that was true for me. I learned about personalities and character, the difference between truth and falsehood, the importance of keeping one’s word, and about betrayal, on the school ground of Forest Glen Elementary School. You learned who your friends were and who would sell you out. You learned whom you could rely upon to show up and play with you, to bring a toy, to complete building a sandcastle, to stay with you during lunch. You saw promises broken, friendships broken, the betrayal of promises and commitments. You found out whom you could rely upon.

When I was in third grade, it was l943; our teacher introduced a new student. “Children, this is Shoshi. He is just like you and me. You may notice that Shoshi looks different from you and me, but he is just like all of you. I want you to be nice to him.” Our teacher was of the Eleanor Roosevelt school of sociology in which everyone is alike and everyone is to be treated just the same because we are all well meaning and alike. Now none of us had noticed that Shoshi was any different from any of us. We all looked different, acted differently, and we figured Shoshi was just another one of us. But once the teacher pointed out that he was Japanese, his skin color was different and his eyes were different we noticed that he did look a little different. And yet she was insisting that he was just like us. We did not know then that Shoshi was one of the Japanese Americans who had been displaced during WWII and moved away from California. This was an act by our government, similar to the forced march of my Indian ancestors to Oklahoma, and an incredible betrayal by a government 3of the people, by the people and for the people.”

We played with Shoshi but he insisted on beating us up. He was ornery and mean. One day we finally pinned him against the cyclone fence in order to get him to stop. The teacher came up and scolded us because after all “Shoshi is just like you.” I remember saying, “No he isn’t. He is just plain mean, and we are not mean. I am tired of having bite marks on my arms, shoulders and neck.” I remember feeling an enormous sense of betrayal, because the teacher whom I had trusted had led me to believe one thing and it wasn’t that way at all. Two weeks later a P-38 buzzed the school and I was sure that it was looking for Shoshi.

As I got older I became more aware of how much we depend and rely on others. I marveled when I was in business that so many transactions are based on the belief that someone will keep their word. I could set up an appointment, the person would agree to show up, would show up, could do what he claimed, would be hired and paid - all without written contracts. Occasionally I got stung. Someone would double cross me.

What became apparent to me through out life was how much the fabric of our lives depends upon people keeping their promises, keeping their word, telling the truth and being responsible. At the same time I became aware of how insidious, pervasive and corrosive betrayal is. On an individual level there is betrayal of a person’s promise and potential when he/she fritters away his/her talent and opportunities. There is the betrayal of one’s parents’ hopes and dreams when you fail to live up their (and often your) expectations. There is betrayal in a marriage when one partner fails to keep the implicit promise of bearing the responsibilities of marriage. There is betrayal when one fails to secure suitable employment and income, fails to be a supportive and decent spouse and parent of one’s children.

In business there is betrayal when executives dissemble and fail to protect the investment of the investors, the jobs of the employees and the quality of the goods and service which the business provides. In society there is betrayal when politicians are motivated by personal gain and fail to work for the common good and the benefit of those who elected them. There is betrayal when the government fails to protect its citizenry and to provide the essential goods and services necessary for human dignity. There is betrayal in society when the medical systems and social services systems just plain don’t work, when homeless sleep on the streets, when people come to my door seeking money because they cannot pay the rent or cover transportation to the doctor. There is betrayal in society when school boards put into place programs that don’t work and hurt the poorest of the children in their system. There is betrayal when a black male is more likely to go to prison than read, write and hold a good job.

In the world of religion there is betrayal when children are promised they will be martyrs if they complete suicide missions, when mothers are promised bliss if they will give up their children to be killed. There is betrayal when religious leaders practice sexual misconduct, abuse others and betray the sacred trust placed upon them by generations of faithful believers. There is betrayal when church leaders cover up the sins of their peers and use ecclesiastical power to subvert plain honesty and straightforward ethical behavior. There is betrayal in the church when laity fail to fulfill their baptismal vows. There is betrayal when laity adopt the attitude of “let someone else do it, and let someone else pay for it.” There is betrayal of our faith when mission and evangelism is less important than providing a comfortable place for “our own little group.” There is betrayal in the church when we fail to examine seriously our shortcomings, our sins, our errors and omissions. There is betrayal when we fail to repent, make amends, seek forgiveness, absolution and repent.

The story of Holy Week is the story of promise and betrayal. Israel broke its covenant with God time and again. Evenso, God remained faithful to Israel. Finally Israel looked for a messiah, who would fulfill the promises of the prophets. On Palm Sunday the people recognized Jesus as a new messiah, “blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” By Thursday Judas sold out Jesus to the Jewish authorities, who betrayed the promises of the prophets, the hopes and dreams of the people. The crowd evaporated and the disciples, particularly Peter, betrayed Jesus by denying Him. At the trial Pilate betrayed truth (3what is truth?2) The Jewish authorities insisted that Jesus be crucified, even though they knew Him to be innocent. Their request for the release of Barabbas, an outlaw, perverted any sense of justice. Ironically the thieves were honest, recognizing Jesus to be an innocent man and divine. While the Jews denied Jesus, a Gentile, a pagan, confessed that 3truly this is the Son of God.2

Oddly enough, oft times when there is betrayal upon betrayal, events cascades until there is a final betrayal which convicts and wipes away all the other betrayals. The final blow, final denial is so outrageous, the injustice is so incredible that there comes a turning point, a point of resolution in which truth stands forth. The sacrifice of a good man, of a man in which the presence of God is so total that He IS the Son of God, changes things for ever. God acts through such an event, changing the rules, changing the playing ground, changing the cosmos. Salvation comes from God through His Son. A new covenant is struck. A new revelation becomes a final revelation. It draws all betrayal to itself and consumes that betrayal.

You and I bring the betrayal in our lives and in our world to the cross of Christ where it is offered up and crucified in His sacrifice. In such an offering we find that you and I and even Shoshi ARE all alike - at least in our pain and failure, in our struggles for truth and reconciliation with ourselves, others and God. At the cross you and I ask for and see divine forgiveness.