And when it was evening, he came with the twelve. And as they were reclining at table and eating, Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me, one who is eating with me.” They began to be sorrowful and to say to him one after another, “Is it I?” He said to them, “It is one of the twelve, one who is dipping bread into the dish with me. For the Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that man if he had not been born.” And as they were eating, he took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to them, and said, “Take; this is my body.” And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, and they all drank of it. And he said to them, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many. -Mark 14:17-24
On any given day (or more like every day) in my house, somebody makes a mess, or somebody breaks something (the joys and pleasures of raising boys). Inevitably when my wife Missy or I discover that something is messy or broken, we will ask (ok fine, yell) "Who did it?" What is the near universal, nearly instinctive response from all my children? (You parents know this already): "Not me! I didn't do it!"
I suppose it's natural not to want to take the blame or admit it when we have a problem. Even us adults never really grow out of it, we just learn to paper over our issues with euphemisms or more reasonable sounding excuses: "No, not me. I'm not abrasive and rude; I'm just honest and tell it like it is." "No, not me. I'm not an alcoholic; I just have a "few beers" every night." "No, not me, I'm not lusting; I'm just appreciating his physique." "No, I'm not gossiping; I'm just sharing a prayer request." No, not me, I'm not greedy; I just appreciate nicer things. And we could go on and on. The point is, our natural inclination is to say “Not me.”
Tonight we eavesdrop in on Jesus' last supper. He is with his twelve closest friends, not for just any meal, but the Passover meal. Usually, this meal was done with family, so Jesus is making a clear statement the He considers them to be like family to him. This Passover meal celebrated God's deliverance of His people Israel from bondage and slavery in Egypt. At this meal they will recite the events of the past, but also each time, hope for the future. Surely, that is where His disciples were; they most definitely believed that it would just be a little bit longer before His kingdom would come in power and they would be delivered from the bondage of Roman Imperialism. But then Jesus makes a jolting statement (he'd been doing that a lot the last week). He says, "Truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me, one who is eating with me."
Now we know today, the specific betrayer was Judas Iscariot. But nobody else in that room did and what sticks out to me is that Mark reports EVERYONE started asking Jesus whether it would be them that did the betraying. “Is it I?”
What does that tell us?
That every one of them at this moment of incredible intimacy with Jesus, recognizes a possibility within each one of them: That as much as they may love their leader, they know deep down that it’s possible they are capable of betraying him.
"Is it I?" The Apostle John asks. At this moment it has to be hard for him to imagine it could be. His gospel account tells us that during this time in the upper room he was so close to Jesus that he was leaning on his chest. Indeed, he actually refers to himself in that gospel not by his name, but by the simple title: “The one whom Jesus loved.” Could it really be me Lord that would betray you?
“Is it I?” Thomas asks. But as the others look at him, they must have found it hard to believe it could be. After all, Thomas had insisted just a few days earlier that they accompany him even to death if need be (John 11:16).
And then there is Peter. Surely, if there were anyone that was going to stick by the side of Jesus, that would never betray Him, it would be Peter. I mean he had boasted as much many times, swearing allegiance to Jesus proclaiming that he would never allow anything to happen to him. We even see evidence of this later that night, as the soldiers come out to arrest Jesus, Peter tries to stab one of the soldiers to defend his master.
“Is it I Lord?”
In Mark's account, Jesus does not give a definitive answer. That is interesting. And I think there's a reason for it. In a sense, even though Jesus is specifically speaking here of Judas' betrayal, He wants us to see that it really could be any of them. After all, the facts are, when everything starts going down later that night, most of the disciples will indeed run for the hills. Peter's going to do it by denying He even knows him three separate times.
Is it I?
In one sense, the answer is always “Yes.”
It could really be any of us.
And now we get to what the story of Jesus' passion calls us to: Stop instinctively declaring "Not me," but to allow yourself, "It is I."
Could it be that I'm not just the life of the party, but I have a drinking problem? It is I, Lord. Could it be that I'm not just blunt and straight forward, but I'm rude and abrasive? It is I, Lord. Could it be that I'm not just being friendly, but that I'm flirting with someone I shouldn't be? It is I, Lord.
One time during communion some years ago, I closed my eyes and began to pray. As I was praying, I began to imagine the whipping and beating of Jesus before his crucifixion. In my mind there was a small crowd of soldiers standing around Jesus taunting him and mocking him. They were spitting on him and kicking him. One of them was whipping him mercilessly- I mean just one lashing after the other, it just wouldn't end. I was so heartbroken at what I was seeing, and then I realized that I saw this scourging through this man's eyes. And it occurred to me: The reason I saw this gruesome scene through this man's eyes is that they were really my eyes. My hands were whipping Jesus.
It is I, Lord.
And yet… It is to this crowd of doubters and unstable, unreliable followers (including even Judas), people just like you and me, that Jesus will say "This is my body, given for you." I will give up my body for you. I will let them spit at me and mock me and whip me and crucify me all because I want you. To this crowd of doubters and unstable, unreliable followers, people just like you and me Jesus says, "This is my blood of the covenant poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins." Yes, as they crucify me, I will plead for them and for you before the throne of the Father, "forgive them for they know not what they do" over and over and over again. For you who would run from me, I will give everything to have you.
Therefore, to our "Is It I?" question Jesus' answer on Good Friday is "Yes, it is you, but I have a better word: It is I and I have paid for your betrayal on the cross. I have bled, so you don't have to bleed. I have been rejected so that you can be accepted. I have been forsaken so that you can be accepted. It is finished. I have overcome the world, I have won for you righteousness and one day we shall feast together for all eternity."