Hang On, Judas
Judas was on the agenda at the jail this week. We’ve been working our way through John’s gospel over the past few months, paying special attention to Jesus’ encounters with real people. We’ve been trying to locate ourselves in these stories and to see what they might teach us about ourselves and about God. We’ve looked at Nicodemus, the Samaritan woman at the well, the woman caught in adultery, the blind beggar, Lazarus, etc. Good stories, each one, and not too difficult to locate ourselves in these characters. But Judas? Well, Judas is a different animal. Especially at the jail.
“What’s the first thing you think of when you hear the word ‘Judas,’ I asked the guys around the circle. The guy beside me had a gash across his cheek, head shaved except for a strip on top that led to a black ponytail. Tattoos ran up his neck. He kind of snickered at the question. “He’s the snitch.” Nods around the circle. A few other guys piped up. “Yeah, he’s the thief, the guy who skimmed off the top… bad dude.” More nods, before one guy summed it up with the word that most of us most quickly associate with Judas. “Betrayer.”
We picked our way through the story of Judas in the gospels. Judas, one of the twelve, one of Jesus’ chosen inner circle. Judas, who self-righteously (and hypocritically) complains about the extravagant waste of perfume poured out on Jesus’ feet. That could have been used to feed the poor! As could the money he was stealing from the treasury, presumably. Judas, who was looking for a more impressive Messiah. Judas, who gives in to the voice of Satan, the Accuser, and agrees to accuse his friend, his teacher, his Lord and Saviour, for a few pieces of silver. Judas who shares a meal with Jesus knowing full well what he was about to do. Judas, who says, “Who, me? Surely not!” Judas who betrays Jesus with a kiss. Judas, who is later overcome with remorse at his role in condemning an innocent man. Judas who throws the silver on the temple floor and hangs himself in despair.
We finished reading about Judas the Betrayer and it was kind of silent around the circle. I wasn’t entirely sure where to go. I was a little nervous about making any direct connection between this scoundrel and the guys in the room. In the end, I simply asked two questions.
- Have any of you ever been betrayed by someone you loved? Every hand went up. Often, this was followed by a loud litany of angry grievance.
- Have any of you ever betrayed someone you love? Every hand went up. The voices weren’t as loud or angry this time. The heads went down. I’ve betrayed my friends… my girl… God…myself. I haven’t lived up to what I should be.
I nodded along.
And then I decided to ask one more question. “So, Judas feels guilty, and he goes and takes his own life. What do you think would have happened if Judas would have hung on for a few days? If he had kind of skulked around Jerusalem, loitering on the periphery of Golgotha’s hill as Jesus breathed his last, slinking about in Saturday’s shadows? What if he had hung on until Sunday and seen the friend that he betrayed emerge from that tomb? What if he had been there with Thomas and the others in that upper room when the risen Jesus reappeared on the scene? What do you think Jesus would have done?”
One guy snickered. “I don’t know about Jesus, but I bet the rest of the disciples would have given him a hell of a beat-down.” This was followed by more than a few knowing chuckles of agreement.
“Yeah, maybe,” I said. “But what about Jesus?”
The guy with the gash on his cheek was quick to respond. “Well, he would have forgiven him, obviously.” One more time, nods around the circle. How could he not? He’s Jesus, after all. It’s impossible to imagine that the Jesus who said, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” would fail to enact his own teaching, even when confronted by his own betrayer.
We’re betrayers, each one of us. Not all to the same extent. Not all with the same catastrophic consequences. But on some level, however small, I think the story of Judas is all our story. Just like we can all see ourselves in Peter’s denial, in James and John’s lust for the fire of judgment, in Thomas’s doubt, and Mary’s tears. We flatter ourselves to leave Judas out of the mix.
But hang on, Judas. Don’t give up too soon. The final chapter need not be written with a bag of wretched coins spilled out on a temple floor or a rope dangling from a branch in a lonely field. There is more to the story than you know. Sunday’s victory overwhelms even Friday’s accusation. This is the glorious hope of the Christian faith. This is the story we tell again and again, year after year, in Holy Week and beyond. Life ultimately lays waste to death. Thanks be to God.
Thanks be to God!
You know every time I hear the song by the Sidewalk Prophets entitled “You Love Me Anyway”, and they come to these lyrics: “I am Judas’ kiss, but you love me anyway.”… it hits me because I realize in the right circumstances, I could have been Judas’ kiss….yet He would love me anyway… powerful….
Nice song. I had never heard it before. Thanks, Jimmy.
I really, really, really appreciate this conversation. The path to ‘love’ is most magnanimously paved with the recognition that we can, we have and we could yet be ‘that’ which is most easy to judge in others. It’s such a humbling but honoring way of moving through the world, isn’t it?
It certainly is! Thanks, Karen.