"I'm what the world considers to be a phenomenally successful man. And I've failed much more than I've succeeded. And each time I fail, I get my people together, and I say, "Where are we going?" And it starts to get better." - Calvin Trager
One of the Gospel readings this morning is from John 13: "Jesus said, 'Very truly, I tell you, one of you will betray me.'"
If you believe in what amounts to the mainstream doctrine of Christian atonement (that Jesus had to die on the cross as sacrifice for our sins), then Judas' betrayal becomes probelmatic. If the purpose of Jesus' life was his death, then all those who participated in his death ... Pilate, Caiaphas and the other Jewish authorities, the crowd, and the one who gets the worst rap, Judas ... all of them were actually doing God's work. That would mean that Judas' betrayal was not evil, but facilitating one of the highest purposes of all. Or, alternately, that God knew that Judas would betray Jesus and used his weakness to facilitate the crucifixion (which makes Judas the catch-22 screwed person of all time!).
I don't buy either of those. (But then again, I don't buy the mainstream doctrine of Christian atonement.) I don't buy it for lots of reasons, but mainly because I think Judas wasn't evil or an unwitting pawn of a God bent on using him to balance the cosmic books. I think Judas just screwed up.
It would be nice if everything were absolute. If there were always absolute right and absolute wrong. But 99% of the time, that's not the case. Complexity is part of every moment of our reality, and our inability to navigate it perfectly every time is one of the many, many things that distinguishes us from God.
Judas loved Jesus. How could he not? But love is never simple. How many times in your life has love met uncertainty and doubt. Have you ever been torn between wanting to believe in someone you love and what seems like the weight of utter rationality stacked up against them?
I don't know why Judas betrayed Jesus. Maybe it was because he became convinced that as much as he loved him, he was dangerous to the cause he had worked his whole life for. Maybe he never thought Jesus would be crucified, just arrested and beaten a little -- enough to scare him into tempering his behavior. Maybe he thought Jesus needed a dead-end, the no-win situation like the cross as a stage to burst through in all his glory and power. Maybe he was threatened in such a powerful way that in his weakness he chose betrayal.
We'll never know. But I do believe that Judas' choice wasn't easy -- you can tell that by his reaction to it. And I also believe that while God didn't program Judas like a robot to betray Christ, God wept with him as he kissed him in that garden and embraced him lovingly as he hung himself from that tree.
I betray Jesus all the time. Sometimes it's by making choices I know are wrong and choosing the easy over the hard. Sometimes it's by honestly trying to do the right thing and screwing up anyway.
I would love to say that if I were in Judas' shoes that night, I wouldn't have stolen away from the table and gone to that clandestine meeting with the authorities. I would love to think that I would have been more like the women, or the beloved disciple, or Joseph of Arimathea or even Simon of Cyrene. I would love to think that I would someone have the combination of insight and courage that would allow me to stick with him until the end.
And maybe I would. But maybe I wouldn't.
In the end, what ties us all together -- in our most noble and ignoble moments -- is that God is embracing us. That we are all part of a story whose high points are glorious and whose low points are redeemable. It's important to strive for the good and the right, but part of that is having the humility to recognize that the complexity of our choices is often beyond our understanding, and that God's power to redeem us is even beyond our power to choose poorly.
Judas is part of the tragedy of holy week ... but also part of the triumph. Not because God programmed him, but because God loved him. And that means God loves us, too.
| Mike at 4/06/2004 01:09:00 PM
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"Christ's example is being
demeaned by the church if they ignore the new leprosy,
which is AIDS. The church is the sleeping giant here.
If it wakes up to what's really going on in the rest
of the world, it has a real role to play. If it doesn't,
it will be irrelevant."