I have been thinking about betrayals--big ones and little ones. From something as small as a broken promise, which feels huge at the time (a friend recovering from surgery laments the fact that friends promised to bring dinner and visit, and have not), to something as colossal as renouncing in fact or in act a marriage vow (which victims may never get over)--there is no dish served colder than betrayal... not even revenge. I have betrayed folk to be sure, in little and big ways. I have been betrayed likewise. All my considerations regarding the second reality are tempered by acknowledgment and confession in the first.
Betrayal is a wicked wound, each and every time, jagged and infected immediately with virulent emotional and relational pathogens: anger, resentment, pride, astonishment, deep deep hurt.
I am reminded of Psalm 41:9, one of the sadder verses in a sad Psalm.
On the face of it, the Psalm as a whole exudes a certain confidence, that God will "protect the poor" and "keep them safe" in the face of their enemies. Even when one lies sick, "The Lord sustains them on their sickbeds." God "heals all their infirmities in their illness." But it is clear that the days in which the Psalmist writes are dark, and darkest of all his considerations is this: "Even my bosom friend in whom I trusted, who ate of my bread, has lifted his heel against me..."
The lyricist will go on to ask God to "be gracious to me, and raise me up," apparently because God is his only ally. Apparently because his desire for recovery is, at least in part, hope for an opportunity for recompense and revenge: "That I may repay them."
A natural desire, with many forms--but vindication against one's enemies, and especially those who were friends when the offense occurred, is the heart of it. For Christians, of course, our vindication comes by means of forgiveness. Forgiveness is harder than revenge; it takes more strength to forgive than to curse. It is also less satisfying, at least in the short term, when what you want to do is twist the knife.
Betrayal, like the desire for vindication, comes in many shapes--but the phrase in verse nine is interesting: "lifted his heel against." Perhaps the Psalmist has in mind the kind of heel-lifting that is requisite to the betrayer's stomping the face of his downed former friend. Or perhaps he means what a betrayer has to do to move his feet in another direction, away from the friend, when his friend has need of that foot, and the person wearing it, back over this way. When Jesus' disciples fled the garden, they in fact lifted their heels against Jesus; but so did others, in many other ways, and so too do we.
Going to secret meetings, cutting secret deals, all the while avoiding the "open road," those paths and steps that would take a heel toward confession and repentance...
Walking to the other side of the road, beyond the pale of a promise, and then cooling one's heels till it is "discovered"...
I am just ruminating.
My friend is recovering from surgery and cannot understand why her "sisters" have not come with food and friendly conversation. I am sure there are reasons, and chances are almost none of them have anything to do with her. I know that after a couple of recent major surgeries a complex of issues kept people mostly away from the house. Some feared to see me in pain, and not because it was me--more because it was pain. My own sister and a good friend cannot stand to see anyone hurt. Some think they are doing you a favor by staying out of the way--"s/he needs to heal," they say, "and s/he does not need me intruding into that. S/he does not need to worry about the house. The family has more important things to do than entertain us..."
It does not make the betrayed--or the unvisited--feel any better when that stuff is in play. A call to explain, which is to say, confession, would help a lot, but confession is so hard for most people--even those who are in the business of calling for it from others Sunday by Sunday. And so it is no surprise, really, that on both ends of the equation people spend a lot of time alone: unvisited, unvisiting. Lots of recovering patients are more or less alone in their recovery, but just knowing that, professionally, did not help me, experientially, escape the kind of loneliness that is so common in such circumstances. Recuperation can be a lonely thing for friends and patients alike. Don't I know it.
And in point of fact one of the coldest, and saddest consequences of betrayals, big or little, is the isolation they cause. The silence: what do we say now? The bewilderment: how do we begin again? If we can muster the faith, hope and love to forgive, how do we begin to build back the bridges of friendship? How do we mend the broken places? How do we heal the broken hearts?
Maybe by eating of each other's bread--a little meal that reminds us of the Big Meal to which we have all been invited, betrayed and betrayer alike, which we each and all of us are. As the 41st Psalmist says, "Heal me for I have sinned against you." But we believe and proclaim that God is gracious, does not lift-up his heel against us, but instead his Son was lifted-up for us. In that forgiveness, in that grace which is greater than our sin, we find there the source to once again begin to be gracious and forgiving ourselves.