You’re like a horse, ridden by either God or the devil. They contend for you. You often don’t realize it. They’re at work, nonetheless. They compete for the reins. You’re not nearly so free as you think, certainly not according to the flesh. You’re subject to powers beyond you, for good or ill.
Someone was going to betray Jesus. The devil would take the reins, and this horse would go where directed. We know now that this was Judas. The apostles didn’t know that, though. And they were perplexed. They knew it might well be any of them. They worried.
Mark tells it like this: “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?’” (Mark 14:18-19). Peter motioned to John to ask who it was who would betray the Lord. They all wanted to know.
Peter could rest easy, but not for long. Peter wasn’t going to be Judas, but he was going to be Peter. He would betray the Lord soon enough, just not now. He would deny Jesus and weep bitterly. We’re all horses, after all, ridden by God or the devil.
Perhaps we’re relieved when we read this. We haven’t been Judas. We haven’t been Peter. We haven’t betrayed our Lord, not like they did. But we’ve caused the Lord’s death no less than Judas. Judas’ sins helped Jesus to the cross; our sins held Him there. Judas was a horse. Peter was a horse. I’m a horse. You’re a horse.
David knew betrayal well. Politics is a cutthroat business, and David was a politician. It’s why his son would build the temple instead of him. But even Solomon would be a horse, wise as he was, sacred as his task. We’re all horses.
We haven’t been Judas. We haven’t been Peter. We haven’t betrayed our Lord, not like they did. But we’ve caused the Lord’s death no less than Judas.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer knew he was a horse, and he knew betrayal, and he knew suffering. People in my circles tend to dismiss him without reading him, which is our special gift. I think Bonhoeffer would be ok with that, though. He knew he was a horse. Like him or not, however, he made an observation that I think makes or breaks a theologian, and it has to do with the psalms.
Bonhoeffer said of the psalms that Christ has taken them up, prayed them, and given them back to us to pray. This is why the psalms grow on us as we age. We aren’t ready for them until we’ve wrestled with our mortality, until we’ve suffered, until we’ve realized we’re a horse.
The psalms get to the heart of what it is to be human. They probe the depths. They ask the big questions. They grapple with the fact that sometimes there is simply no answer this side of the grave. Christ took these psalms up, he prayed them, and then he gave them back to us. And so he says in John’s Gospel before us today: “…the Scripture will be fulfilled, ‘He who ate my bread has lifted his heel against me.’ I am telling you this now, before it takes place, that when it does take place you may believe that I am he” (John 13:18-19). Jesus makes David’s words his own, because David’s words were Christ’s to begin with.
Jesus makes David’s words his own, because David’s words were Christ’s to begin with.
Luther had colorful language for the devil. We all should. He’s the worst. And he’s not content to be the worst. He wants our reins. He wants to make us as pathetic as he is. He is the consummate loser, and he wants us to lose, too. Cuss him!
Did you ever play king of the hill after a snowstorm as a child? We used to play at recess. It’s amazing no one ever died. One kid climbed the huge piles left from the plow and the rest tried to knock him down. It was never-ending violence, at least until Sister Karen put an end to it. God bless Sister Karen for keeping us alive.
The devil wants to be king of the horse, but Christ has knocked him down. And Christ has done this once and for all. The devil raised his heel against Christ. He rode Judas to betrayal. But Christ’s bruise is now a trophy, and Christ took own heel, freshly wounded, and crushed the devil’s head. Trying riding a horse with one of those.
David boasts in faith, which is the only way to boast:
But you, O Lord, be gracious to me,
and raise me up, that I may repay them!
By this I know that you delight in me:
my enemy will not shout in triumph over me.
But you have upheld me because of my integrity,
and set me in your presence forever.
Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel,
from everlasting to everlasting!
Amen and Amen.
God has been gracious to us. Christ rose and repaid the devil, and we can repay him, too. Luther’s colorful language is appropriate here, if not always elsewhere. We all can now join in David’s song, which was really always Christ’s: “Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, from everlasting to everlasting! Amen and Amen.”
Judas was a horse. Peter was a horse. All the apostles were. I’m a horse. You’re a horse. Deal with it, but also take heart, because your rider has put up a hell of a fight for the reins, and defeated hell in doing so, and he plans to ride you where he himself has gone, victorious, to prepare a place for you. Thank God you are a horse. Thank God Christ is your rider. Amen.