And while they were eating, he said, “Amen, I say to you, one of you will betray me.”
Deeply distressed at this, they began to say to him one after another, “Surely it is not I, Lord?” – Matthew 26:21-22
Swimming. Cross-country running. Track. Tennis. Volleyball. Softball. These are the team activities the members of my family have participated in over the years. We are not natural athletes, most of us. We have to work really hard if we want to do more than cheer from the sidelines. And most of the time, to be honest, the majority of our kids haven’t been interested in working that hard. But we still strongly encourage them to join a sport. Why? Because, when coached well, (or at least when kept in proper perspective by us as parents) it teaches them that there is more to life than “me.” It teaches them that when the team wins, they win, even if they did poorly, or didn’t play. And when the team suffers, they suffer, even if it was their best performance.
This is an important lesson for each of us. And it’s one we don’t just learn once, but one we must continue to challenge ourselves to remember in each of the “teams” we join later in life. The “team” of co-workers at work, the “team” of our fellow parishioners, the “team” of our family, the “team” of our fellow citizens, the “team” of humanity (the world).
But it’s easy to get side-tracked. It’s easy to get so focused on building our retirement portfolios that we forget to carve out a portion of it to help our fellow citizens. It’s easy to get so focused on building a name for ourselves in our business that we forget to raise others up when they’ve done well, too. It’s easy to get so focused on what we want, that we forget to give thanks for all we’ve been given.
We see this again and again in the lives of the twelve disciples…James and John ask to be the two chosen to sit on either side of Jesus in his glory. (Mark 10:35-37). Peter may have been trying to gain favor over the disciples with Jesus when he proclaims, “Master, then not only my feet, but my head and hands as well!” (John 13:1-6)
We come by it honestly to think of ourselves, it seems.
However, by the grace of God, we can discipline ourselves to grow beyond that. To be able to put others first, or to cheer others on, even when we ourselves aren’t doing so well. This, it seems to me, was the mature self-discipline that eleven of the twelve disciples show us today. For when Jesus foretells that one of the twelve will betray him, they all grow “deeply distressed.” Why? Because if Jesus is going to be betrayed, then they are already hurting for him! Asking “Surely, it isn’t I?” doesn’t seem to be a question with hidden motives of self-interest, because as of yet, there is no foretelling of what fate will befall the betrayer, there is only mention that Jesus will be hurt by a betrayal. And for the eleven, when one hurts, they all hurt.
We get to see what self-interest looks like, however, when Jesus goes on to say that as for his betrayer it would be “better for that man if he had never been born.” In saying this, he cleverly draws out his betrayer by mentioning the single subject of the most import to him: himself. And it is only then we see Judas alone ask, “Surely, it is not I?”
Now, please understand I’m not saying team sports are the answer to self-sacrifice. There are certainly lots of stories about how, when coached poorly, or when parents are unrealistic about their kids’ abilities, requiring their kids to be a part of team sports can create a self-focused, self-absorbed individual, or cause more damage to their self-esteem than good. I’m saying that it’s important to use whatever opportunities we have in this life to help our kids (and remind ourselves) that God desires us to have hearts like those of the eleven. Hearts that empathize and sympathize and break for others when they suffer. Hearts that celebrate others’ joys even in the midst of our own sorrows. Hearts that “lay down their life for one’s friends.” (John 15:13)
This is the heart of Jesus, and the heart of his disciples.
Reflect: What are the “teams” in my life right now? What is one way I can help raise others up on each of these “teams” rather than focus on my own successes or failures? How can I encourage others to have a “Jesus heart” into the teams and groups I’m involved in?
Pray: Lord, we thank you for opportunity to remember there is so much more to the world then our own sufferings, our own failures and successes, and our own interests. Please help me see those around me who could use some encouragement today, and help me to provide the encouragement they need. Thank you for always being the source of encouragement for us. Amen.