Making Room for Your Betrayers
Open Your Bible
Exodus 23:4–5, Matthew 18:15–20, Luke 6:27–36, John 18:15–18, John 21:15–19, Colossians 3:12–13
In books and movies, we expect the good guys to win—to overthrow, conquer, crush, or otherwise demolish the story’s evildoers. There are exceptions, of course, but this is the general rule. It’s even in the Bible. Before we can get through a full three chapters of Genesis, God declares that the offspring of the woman will one day crush the head of the serpent (Genesis 3:15). Because our God is perfectly just and perfectly righteous, we know instinctively that no wicked deed should go unpunished and that good ought to triumph in the end.
But what about those stories that go beyond good vanquishing evil? I’m thinking of Luke Skywalker, who offered a new beginning to Darth Vader, even as the dark lord threatened to murder him. Or there’s Bilbo Baggins, who pitied the ring-crazed Gollum, refusing to kill the twisted creature. And how many times has Superman saved Lex Luthor from certain death?
There is a goodness that suprasses mere victory over evil, and it smells a lot like the gospel. To be sure, God will one day destroy evil, fully and finally, but in the meantime He offers salvation to people in rebellion. No one is too far gone. No one is beyond hope. And God is patient. He holds out an open hand to lost men and women, many of whom would spit in His face if given the chance (see Matthew 26:67; 27:30; Luke 23:34), “not wanting any to perish but all to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).
One of my favorite scenes in the Gospels is recorded in John 13. Jesus rises from the Last Supper, ties a towel around His waist, and begins washing each of His disciples’ feet. In the ancient world, the task of washing feet was reserved for the lowliest of servants. That’s because on those dusty roads, it was often hard to tell where the dirt ended and the animal waste began—and people walked just about everywhere. By selflessly scrubbing those one hundred and twenty filthy toes, Jesus left His friends (and us) an example to follow: we are to love one another.
But love is not reserved only for our friends. Jesus washed Peter’s feet, and John’s, and James’s, and worked His way down the line. At some point, He was face to feet with Judas, the disciple who would betray Him to the Jewish authorities in just a short while. And still, He washed dirt and grime from the traitor’s feet, knowing full well what evil was lurking in his heart (John 13:2–3,18–21).
True love is not conditional. It is not a reward for good behavior. This is why Jesus could teach, “Love your enemies, do what is good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you… Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High. For he is gracious to the ungrateful and evil. Be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful” (Luke 6:27–28,35–36). We ought to love our betrayers and those who seek to do us harm, not because we can easily brush aside the pain they cause, but because our hope lies in a God who did not count our sins against us. He chose to love us, knowing full well the evil lurking in our hearts when we were far from Him. “We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19).
Written by John Greco