If you want to make a lot of money today, write a book about how the Church is messed up. It will sell well outside of the Church but it will sell even better inside of the Church. You could write on how the Church is out of touch culturally, how it is too judgemental, how it is too right wing, or too left wing. You could say how it needs to change it’s theology, or where it meets, or how it needs change it’s worship style. How it is too large, too small, to hyped, too sombre.
Everyone has an opinion of how the church should change itself. At some stage into our minds crept the idea that the Church was to be perfect, that those verses in Acts 2:40-42 summarized the norm rather than the ideal.
However a careful reading of Matthew 26 shows us that Jesus knew full well that the new people that he was forming, the body that would be known as the Church, would be far from perfect. How it was a reflection of the process of sanctification that individuals were undergoing. That sometimes it would reflect a company of sinners and at other times it would reflect a host of saints.
At the Last Supper, that feast that would be an echo of the Messianic feast that would usher in the Kingdom in its fullness. Jesus let’s us know that the real enemy is not outside of the people of God but that a traitor dwells within. Judas betrayal is proceeded by the Disciples indignation over Jesus seemingly forgetting his social justice responsibilities and instead lauding the woman who worshiped with expensive perfume. Again the seeds of betrayal may have been sown at this point, as human agenda’s even though noble and just begin to compete with Jesus’ own Kingdom viewpoints.
In fact Jesus sobering message to his disciples, the band who will form the apostolic foundation of the Church is that they will all fall. Even Peter the man who more than other in history represents the Church falls and denies who he is meant to be, a follower of Christ. However despite this fall grace abounds, there is a direct link between the fates of Judas and Peter.
Both deny Christ, however Peter, is humbled, he understands that all have fallen short of the Glory of God. This rambunctious, obstinate fisherman, allows himself to be shaped by grace, and out of rock God carves something stunning, a foundation upon which to build his church. In contrast, Judas’ betrayal seems to be founded upon a growing sense of mistrust. Obviously to be chosen as the group’s treasurer he was a man of trust and reliability. How do you go from being a disciple with a privileged position of responsibility to selling Jesus out? Judas’ betrayal appears to be born of a slow growing concern that became indignation that in term became treachery. It seems that Judas measured Jesus’ messianic credentials with his own human measurements rather than with an openness to what God was doing in his midst.
Thus Matthew 26 offers us a theology of the imperfect Church. It prevents us from pointing fingers a ‘the’ church, and instead asks us to prayerfully ask what is wrong with ‘us’ as members of the Church. Sure we need prophet’s who will call the church to account, but prophet’s messages always first are lived out through their lives. They are born of personal repentance and conviction, the prophets first task is to reform his or herself. (Believe you me I know, and have made this mistake myself countless times.) Matthew 26 reminds us not to make it about ‘them’ but instead to begin with ‘me’.