So I've been preaching through John's Gospel for almost...a long time. And we come to chapter 13 which begins with that wonderful portrait of our Lord washing His disciples feet. But the awe of that moment is tainted with the revelation that there is a traitor among them.
As I studied the brief middle section of that chapter, two things about the disciples' reaction jumped out at me. The first, when Jesus says one of them will betray Him, their first response is not for all of them to start pointing at Judas and saying things like “I knew that guy was up to no good.” John says they were “uncertain.” They had no clue. Judas wasn't the obvious villain we sometimes think. There's more on that, but I don't want to just give you Sunday's sermon.
The second reaction, when Jesus says one of them will betray Him, is also that their first response is not pointing at others at all. It's not just that they didn't recognize Judas' traitorous heart, it's that they didn't start wagging fingers and tongues and accusing each other and so on. Instead, as Matthew's account tells us, they each began to ask the question: Is it I?
I'm blown away by that. Humility. A readiness to look at my own heart before I start casting blame on others. What an amazing example. I don't imagine it playing out that way in most churches today. I have a feeling we'd be a little quick to point the blame on others. “Oh, yeah, it must be that guy. I've never trusted him. Or maybe that guy, he dresses funny. Or that guy over there, he always disagrees with me at business meeting.” We would fill our minds with suspects and accusations. But the disciples asked, “Is it I?”
I'm not suggesting living in a constant state of uncertainty and doubt. John ends his first letter to the church by reminding us that he has written to those “who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know you have eternal life.” That you may know. Confidence in the saving work of Christ is a good thing. And expected thing. But spiritual pride is another. And we are frequently reminded to take a good look, to make our calling and election sure, to see that we are in the faith, and so on.
Humble self-examination. Periodically checking to see that our heart is right. Looking in evaluation before we look out in judgment. Getting the plank out of our own eye before looking to help a brother remove his speck. (That doesn't mean we don't look to help the brother get that speck out, because that's part of the reason we need to get the plank out of our own eye.......but that's Sunday night's sermon, so.......)
I know I need this reminder. I'm pretty certain most things are other people's fault. I'm pretty sure I've got it right and the rest of y'all need to get some things figured out. So, yeah, I need to hear this. Humble self-examination. Searching my heart before looking to blame others. If a relationship isn't what it should be: Is it I, Lord? If there's a disagreement here or there: Is it I, Lord? If there's something that needs to be done: Is it I, Lord? Is there an obstacle that needs to be removed: Is it I, Lord?
Maybe it's not me. In this case it was Judas. The other guys were innocent of this particular crime. They weren't the traitors after all. Yet, we have much to learn from their first look being inward instead of outward. May we all example such humble self-examination.