New Depths of Restoration
I’ll never forget the sunny afternoon I walked home from the bus stop while arguing with a friend. “I’m not as dumb as you think I am!” I finally blurted out. Without skipping a beat, she quipped, “You don’t know how dumb I think you are!” After an awkward silence, we both started laughing, her quick wit diffusing the angst threatening to blow just moments before.
But those words spoken in jest have echoed through my mind so many times since the true nature of a man I once trusted was exposed several years ago. So much of my life was shaped by his teachings and, when they were revealed as a mask for his reprehensible behavior, all I could think was “How in the world did I miss this? How could I have been so dumb?”
Friends, since then my inner monologue has not been kind. Words I’d never dream of saying to another I’ve said to myself, playing like a life-sucking soundtrack on auto-repeat. For years, I’ve kicked myself, feeling less than and disqualified because I was deceived by a master deceiver.
But, something shifted in me as I read Matthew’s account of the Last Supper recently. Specifically, when Jesus tells the disciples that one of them is about to betray him.
Have you ever noticed that their first response was, “Lord, is it me?” I think maybe normal sinners ask that question. At least I did. For a long time, I carried a deep fear that somehow I would betray the Jesus I love and so desire to please. And, the real betrayer fed that fear. As long as we were busy worrying, he knew we were less likely to clue into his treachery, so he deliberately, routinely came up with all manner of reasons to kick those hornets’ nests and keep them buzzing.
But, here’s what dropped into my heart and mind this week: have you ever noticed that not one of the disciples looked straight at Judas and saw him for who he was? After all, he was asking the same question: “Is it me?” I’m not sure if that was an attempt to cover his bony backside or honestly thinking that what he was about to do was something other than the worst double-cross in history. But, don’t you think the others would’ve stopped him if they had any idea that he was about to betray Jesus?
Now that I think about it, I’m pretty sure Judas never would’ve made it out of the upper room if the others had had any clue about what he was about to do. They had lived and worked together for years. Heard the same teachings. Witnessed the same miracles. Walked the same roads and fished the same seas. So when their “friend” Judas did the deed, I’m pretty sure they were stunned. It makes me wonder if maybe Peter was swinging for Judas when his sword connected with an unfortunate servant’s ear. Surely they looked at each other, wide eyed, and said, “Were we just plain dumb to miss this?”
Turns out, they’re not as dumb as they think they are. Neither am I. And, it’s what shifted in me this week as it dawned on me that there’s no shame in being deceived by a deceiver. Dan Allender points out in his excellent book, Bold Love, that people like narcissists (and sociopaths, psychopaths, and cult leaders – some of whom fit all those profiles) get away with what they do because normal sinners can’t comprehend how they’re being played. Unless we’ve learned we have a reason to look for it, it never occurs to us that others think in such different and insidiously twisted ways.
Of course, it’s better to never fall for a liar’s lies in the first place. How I wish to God I never had. But, noticing what went down around the table at the last supper reminded me that I’m in the company of some real heroes of the faith when it comes to not seeing through the guise of one determined to deceive.
And that gives me the courage to use my voice again. To realize I’m not disqualified for being found among those who, having once believed a bad man good, discovered to their horror that he wasn’t who he claimed to be. Yes, Judas had walked with Jesus. And yes, he knew how to pass himself off as a disciple. But nothing about his ability to act made him good. His actions revealed the truth about the man behind the mask and what he really believed. And what’s true of him is true of the “Judas” I knew too.
What if the other disciples thought they couldn’t testify to what they’d seen because of what they hadn’t seen coming? The only one Jesus condemns in the upper room is Judas. He told him straight up it would be better had he never been born. Yes, he was playing into God’s hand, ultimately, but that in no way excused him for what he was about to do. Jesus never faults the other disciples for not seeing Judas’ true character.
Of course, they did blow it in their own ways. They abandoned Jesus in the garden. They ran for their lives. Peter denied him. Only John showed up to witness his agony on the cross. But Jesus didn’t condemn them for their fear. For being (surprise!) human. And when He had accomplished what He set out to do and rose from the dead, He quickly sought them out and restored them.
Which brings me to something else I noticed as I reflected on this familiar passage: the disciples hadn’t clearly seen Jesus either. They failed to recognize Judas for who he was, yes; but they also failed to recognize all of who Jesus really was. In an irony only God could’ve planned, it was Judas’ betrayal that set off the circumstances that finally revealed the truest true. How powerful is God, that He uses even the schemes of His enemies to accomplish His eternal purposes?!
Once they saw their resurrected Savior, the disciples were changed forever, emboldened to tell the world about it, and empowered to do so without the fear that made them flee the night Judas betrayed Jesus. And that gives me all kinds of hope. My submission to the silence and shame over being a deceiver’s victim kept me tied to the will of the one who played me with such wicked skill. Well, no more. I’m siding with the disciples. By God’s grace, I’ve seen who Jesus really is. I reject the lies I was taught about Him. And I’m ready to reclaim my voice and use it to walk in who God created me to be.
Have you ever felt dumb when you discovered you’d been fooled? Have you let the shame of misplacing your trust silence your voice? I’m letting these insights soak in like a balm on scars that sometimes still ache even now and then propel me toward bolder confidence and deeper restoration. Join me?