He only gets mentioned around 30 times in the biblical narrative, and many of these references are repeats, but Judas Iscariot carries a name that has become synonymous with everything we have come to despise.
Consider St. Peter, St. Paul, the Virgin Mary or Mary Magdalene and all kinds of images come to mind; they were not perfect people but we consider them heroic and noble – a triumph of good over weakness. Not so with Judas; he is associated with the dark side, the inauthentic, human nature at its worst. Lessons for work and life tumble easily out of the stories of the saints, while Judas is vilified and written off.
But we ignore him to our detriment; he was one of the twelve, chosen by Jesus of Nazareth to be with him; he was trusted with the job of finance officer for the group. He was not a cardboard cut-out figure, but a real man and his story will yield learning if we have the humility to look and the wisdom to watch.
May I suggest we start by remembering that Judas would have seen first hand the power of his rabbi? He was in the boat when the storm was calmed and saw the stampede of pigs when they reached dry land; he was witness to dead people being raised, thousands being fed with a few loaves and his master walking on water; Judas was there when Jesus rode into Jerusalem and thousands welcomed him; these things he shared with the other eleven.
He also shared the short-sightedness and confusion about where all this was heading. Time and time again, Judas had heard Jesus talk about a coming Kingdom and, along with the others, he had reached one clear conclusion: the overthrow of Rome and the reinstatement of Jewish power was the end gain of this Kingdom.
Now go into Judas’ mind and ask what he expected to happen as a result of his infamous betrayal. Did he expect this incredibly powerful leader, who had promised a kingdom, to just lay down and die when a few foot soldiers arrived? Did he expect the man who could stop a storm not to be able to resist arrest?
It was a massive miscalculation. What he unleashed was not what he expected and, without ignoring his treachery, we cannot ignore his complexity. Amongst his catalogue of mistakes was an attempt to force his leader’s hand; somewhere in Judas’ convoluted thinking was the desire to control an outcome to suit his aims. Here we meet him in the shadows; in fact Judas holds up a mirror to us revealing everything we want to suppress about ourselves.
History is littered with examples of those who want to hijack Jesus of Nazareth and hold him hostage to their cause. Violence, crusades, impositions and persecutions have all been perpetrated in the name of Jesus as the perpetrators attempt to use him to endorse their campaigns – easy to spot and easy to condemn.
Less easy is your tendency and mine to assume that we can make Jesus do what we want. We want him to make us rich, make us well, make us right and make us better than someone else; we want him to conform to our agenda and take our side against those with whom we disagree; we want him to destroy our enemies and validate our causes – but he will not.
Watch this year how many times you try to force his hand to do what you want and call it praye;.listen to how many times you want him to justify your argument and call it evangelism; fFeel this year how many times you want Him to conform to your ideas of a good life and call it discipleship.
Judas lives in the shadows of all our lives and serves as a powerful warning as well as a timeless reminder of the reasons why Jesus would not, and will not, let his hands be forced, and why he did let his hands be nailed.
43Just as he was speaking, Judas, one of the Twelve, appeared. With him was a crowd armed with swords and clubs, sent from the chief priests, the teachers of the law, and the elders. 44Now the betrayer had arranged a signal with them: “The one I kiss is the man; arrest him and lead him away under guard.” 45Going at once to Jesus, Judas said, “Rabbi!” and kissed him. 46The men seized Jesus and arrested him. 47Then one of those standing near drew his sword and struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his ear. 48“Am I leading a rebellion,” said Jesus, “that you have come out with swords and clubs to capture me? 49Every day I was with you, teaching in the temple courts, and you did not arrest me. But the Scriptures must be fulfilled.” 50Then everyone deserted him and fled.
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