Judas: a Holy Week meditation for Spy Wednesday.
Matthew 26, 3-34, 45-50; 27, 3-10: Mark, 3-9: Luke 22, 1-27: John 13, 1-30, 18, 1-6: Acts 1 15-20: Genesis 38, 1-27
We might all identify ourselves, according to gender, with paintings of Martha of Bethany, David or Peter: but not Judas. Why? He appears no more flawed than them. Martha nagged her sister; David raped one woman, ignored the needs of his raped daughter, and had his general killed; and Peter denied Jesus. But Judas seems to attract all the opprobrium there is, leaving us more or less free to betray our own honour, our own faith, our nearest and dearest: like Judas. He was an ordinary man of urban Judea, keen on helping the poor, willing to traipse around the region with a bunch of Galilean peasants for three years under their leader and Messiah. True, he offered Jesus to the authorities, which dreadful consequences. Yet sin is counted not, or not just, by consequences but by intention. If I drink a bottle of wine and then drive, and get home safely, I am no less sinful than my drinking friend who did exactly the same on another road but could not react in time to avoid the pedestrian, my street being people-free. Both of us would have sinned, for each cared only for our own benefit.
Judas betrayed his friend and companion: and that hurts, whoever the players are. Betrayal is prefigured in Psalm 41, ‘Even my colleague, in whom I trusted, who ate of my bread, lifted up his heel against me.’ And again in Psalm 55: For it is not an enemy who taunts me, that I could bear; he who hates me did not lift up his heel against me – I could hide from such a one. But it is you, a person of my own rank, a compatriot, my confident.’
Matthew goes back to old motifs in offering us thirty pieces of silver as a facile reason for betrayal. But that trivialises it into a single action like theft from the charity box which John attributes to Judas. But defined acts of wrongdoing such as robbery, or being the necessary though not sufficient cause of a death, are acts which most of us can say we have not done, thereby expelling Judas from our own orbit, our own being, washing our hands of him. In calling Judas’s single act ‘betrayal,’ we call up the drama of an 007 thriller which, once again, is easier than seeing betrayal than the echo which each and all of us hear from the psalmist’s lines, and which we cannot expel from our orbit: betrayed by the one whom I trusted, who ate of my bread, betrayed by one of my own rank, my kinsman, my confident: betraying the one who trusted me, who ate with me, betraying my kinsman, my confident. ‘Colleague’ is not a lightly used word: it is ‘a person of my peace’ the one with whom I am the closest terms of intimacy. That today’s, as any day’s, betrayal. We all can, and do, betray; fail to keep faith with faith and friends, fail our own self. Sometimes it truly is unintentional, resulting from a misreading of meanings: the moment when one friend, one of many, says ‘You are my best friend,’ and the addressee can say nothing for to agree would be to lie – but to be silent is almost unwittingly to risk the friend feeling betrayed, duped. What is experienced as ‘betrayal’ might stem from ignorance, lack of imagination, casual carelessness rather than intentional fraud in relationships. Failing to keep faith with the glory in our faith, the glory in our friends, the glory in our selves: such failure, if wilful, is a betrayal of God’s gift. But let us look a little more at Judas – and what happened to him – for he is us.
Even after announcing the impending betrayal on Wednesday, before tomorrow’s Gethsemene, Jesus still sees him in that Garden as his colleague, his comrade and companion, the person with whom he shares bread. Even if knowingly providing the necessary condition for a killing is a great sin – and it must surely be so counted – Jesus still counted Judas, the disciple-saint of the previous three years, as his colleague, his intimate friend, at the very moment of his sin.
Why Judas was chosen by the chief priests as the weak link, or why he offered himself to them, is an interesting point. Judas was the only Judean –so a cut above the Galilean riff-raff. How easy it is to be seduced into wrong by being picked out from the crowd! How easy for him to fall in with the request: ‘Judas, you are one of us, a Judean, we are sure that you, at least, care for the survival of our state, our people, our faith: that’s why we are trusting you with our plans.’ What a slick seduction that would be! And was Judas’s response to Caiphas also influenced by his knowing that Jesus wasn’t going to gain renown in Judea, renown in which all the disciples would have been mirrored? Rather would this long-expected Messiah throw all his and their efforts away in a horrid end.
But wait, Jesus picked out Judas! Jesus knew Judas would give him that kiss. So is Judas a victim as well, a necessary martyr? Jesus says, ‘Would that my betrayer had not been born!’ But if we read that like the angry statement of a bitter parent saddled with an irritating demanding or just there child, we miss the voice in which that was uttered, for there is no hint of rejection, or scorn. Judas was, and remained, Jesus’ friend. And when Jesus said he knew one of the twelve would betray him, what we read is not immediate fear for or protection of Jesus, but immediate defence by each listener of their own innocence: self first! ‘It’s not me, so I’m OK.’ After Judas is given the dripping bread, no one says anything to him. True, as so often, the disciples ‘don’t get it -’ but eleven got enough to know and assert they were in the clear.
And what of the outcome for (us in) Judas? There are two. Matthew gives us the easy one, which has him hang himself with grief over his wrongdoing, or Acts, where he just ‘splits open’ and dies. And certainly when the lectionary has us link Judah and Judas, I always reckon Judas comes out streets ahead, because he voluntarily accepted his wrong-doing, whereas two-faced Judah didn’t until confronted with it. But the other outcome, more difficult yet more hopeful for ‘us-in-Judah,’ is that he remains with the twelve. When Jesus comes to that upper room again, after Easter but before they’ve gone a replacement for Judas, just one of the twelve is named as being absent: Thomas.
Accepting the sin we do, as Judas did, but repenting for it by living this life and knowing we are still acceptable to God as Judas was to God-in-Jesus after he had made his pact with Caiaphas, knowing that as saint and sinner we live in grace-given joy: this is living a Christian life. Spy Wednesday shows the ease with which we have all betrayed our friends, our faith, ourselves and, for due balance, when we should also recognise the ease with which others betrayed and betray us. And seeing is possible because tomorrow presages Easter, that reconciling resolution of our failures and our wrongs in the love of Christ crucified and risen.
Tonight, rather than searching for a representation of a grotesquely hook-nosed Judas amid the charming and usually blue-eyed Mary’s and David’s, why not look for Judas, our doppelgänger, in the bathroom mirror? And let us then reflect on our seriously burdening betrayals of others, self and therefore God, and on the betrayals of us by others and, repentant and forgiving, let these betrayals, whether intentional or not, go into God’s keeping in Christ’s Resurrection.
Judas: a Holy Week meditation for Spy Wednesday.