Whether it’s romance or friendship, nothing stings as sharply, nor as long, as unrequited love. Webster defines unrequited love as “not reciprocated or returned in kind.” In a word, it feels like rejection.
Of all the negative human emotions worn by Jesus, rejection could arguably be the one He experienced most often. Pharisees scoffed Him, and even His own disciples denied and doubted Him. Yet, perhaps the unkindest cut of all came as a result of the betrayal by His friend Judas.
Though Judas had witnessed Jesus performing miracle after miracle, he merely referred to Him as “Rabbi” or “Teacher”, never “Lord”. Jesus didn’t fit Judas’ bill for the kind of Messiah he was expecting. He had waited for a military liberator, not a Prince of Peace. The fact that Judas is always listed last in every list of disciples may be an indication of the lack of personal relationship he had with Jesus.
Most likely, on some lesser level you understand this kind of unrequited friendship. Perhaps, you once invested in the life of someone who rarely, if ever, offered you a return on your investment. You did the calling and inviting. They didn’t. You shared your hopes and dreams. They didn’t. You wanted more. They didn’t.
In the interaction between Jesus and Judas in the Garden of Gethsemane it’s easy to filter our feelings about the betrayal through those kinds of experiences. Our mortal eyes see Judas as a selfish, greedy traitor who hung Jesus out to dry. We’re tempted to conjure up our own notion of what Jesus might have thought about the betrayal, “After all I’ve done for you, how could you do such a thing? I thought you were my friend! This is the last time I’ll ever trust anyone!”
However, taking the time to sit next to Jesus as he washed His disciples’ feet in John 13 allows us a different perspective on Jesus’ possible response. He knew Judas was the one who would betray Him. Though that rejection troubled his spirit deeply, He still washed Judas’ feet right along with the disciples who had indeed called Jesus their Lord. Judas might have possibly believed Jesus was THE Messiah, but he never believed He was HIS Messiah – and that made all the difference.
After Jesus washed their feet, they had a meal together. Jesus dipped bread into a bowl, and handed it to Judas saying, “Hurry and do what you are going to do.” Judas made his exit and missed hearing Jesus’ warmest words of reassurance and love. (Read John 14-17)
Basking in the heartfelt words of Jesus allows us to stand with unclouded eyes next to Him and Judas in the Garden. Critiquing Judas through the eyes of Jesus, we see a better way to frame unrequited love. Challenge me if you like, but I believe that rather than being hurt and angry, Jesus was sad that Judas had turned down His love. Judas could have had an extraordinary eternal life. Instead, he rejected the invitation, resisted the call, dashed his hopes and dreams, and wanted no more of Jesus. When Jesus called him “Friend” this one last time, I wonder if Judas dared look into the eyes of Jesus long enough to notice all the love they held.
My prayer is that we learn to see others the way Jesus sees them. When our love for them isn’t returned, let’s go to the One who never rejects us – the One who stands ready to give us more than we can imagine. Let Jesus remind you of your worth so you can press on joyfully.
“I’ve told you these things for a purpose: that my joy might be your joy, and your joy wholly mature. This is my command: Love one another the way I loved you. This is the very best way to love. Put your life on the line for your friends. You are my friends when you do the things I command you. I’m no longer calling you servants because servants don’t understand what their master is thinking and planning. No, I’ve named you friends because I’ve let you in on everything I’ve heard from the Father.” John 15:11-15, The Message