Art: “The Taking of Christ” by Caravaggio, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Available online at: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:The_Taking_of_Christ-Caravaggio_(c.1602).jpg
Written by Jonathan Page, Pastor, Herndon United Methodist Church
After he said these things, Jesus went out with his disciples and crossed over to the other side of the Kidron Valley. He and his disciples entered a garden there. Judas, his betrayer, also knew the place because Jesus often gathered there with his disciples. Judas brought a company of soldiers and some guards from the chief priests and Pharisees. They came there carrying lanterns, torches, and weapons. Jesus knew everything that was to happen to him, so he went out and asked, “Who are you looking for?”
They answered, “Jesus the Nazarene.”
He said to them, “I Am.” (Judas, his betrayer, was standing with them.) When he said, “I Am,” they shrank back and fell to the ground. He asked them again, “Who are you looking for?”
They said, “Jesus the Nazarene.”
Jesus answered, “I told you, ‘I Am.’ If you are looking for me, then let these people go.” This was so that the word he had spoken might be fulfilled: “I didn’t lose anyone of those whom you gave me.”
Years ago, I participated in a dramatic re-enactment of the Last Supper. I can’t remember which of the disciples I portrayed, but what I remember vividly is sitting around a table and having to ask the question, on multiple occasions, “Am I the one who will betray my Lord?” Caravaggio’s The Taking of Christ is not a reflection on the Last Supper at all but, much like the re-enactment question, it does invite us to consider our role in the proceedings that lead to Jesus’ crucifixion.
Amidst this dimly lit slew of characters, perhaps we might see ourselves in the curious glancings of Peter on the right or the frantic panic of John on the left. There is potential that we might see ourselves in the sunken face of Christ or the hollow eyes of Judas. Many historians and theologians believe that Caravaggio had great intention in forming the armor of the soldier reaching for Jesus in the middle of the painting, believing that the mirror-like armament is meant to be an invitation to us to see our own reflection in what is unfolding. Can you see yourself there?
The truth is, in different seasons of our lives, we may find ourselves as different characters in this story. Moments of curiosity can bleed into moments of worry and there may be times where we feel the weight of pain or the fury of accusation. In this season, we may find ourselves asking the question of the re-enactment and what Caravaggio seems to be asking us in this painting: “Am I the one who will betray my Lord?”
No matter our location or our question, a reason to hold onto hope is found in the gospel. Consider the last phrase of this pericope, the very words that this moment is meant to fulfill: “I didn’t lose anyone that you gave me.” In our many betrayals of Christ, conscious or otherwise, there is a beam of light in the darkness of this tale: we are not apart from Jesus. Not in our moments of betrayal, not in our moments of fear, not in our moments of aggression, not in our moments of nosiness. Not even in our own journeys to death and resurrection is it possible to find ourselves apart from the love of God that is found in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Am I the one who will betray my Lord? It is possible, perhaps even likely, that the answer to this question is yes. And yet, as a part of the fabric of God’s beloved creation, you have not been lost. Christ is with you. No matter where you find yourself in the picture or if you find yourself in the picture at all, God’s love is found in the depths of your soul.
Thanks be to God. Amen.
Find previous “Picturing God” entries here:
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