Stations: Judas

 

Judas – The Departue by Ghislaine Howard

 

As Jesus kneels praying the prayer of his life, another man pulls on his jacket and prepares to commit treason. His name, his deeds, even his payment have become icons of treachery and Betrayal,  and although his motives remain murky, their outcome remains the same – no-one ever names their baby ‘Judas’.

He walks through Gethsemane at the head of  a mob, and every betrayal in history is pulled towards this point; every lover who slept with a best friend, every fifth columnist trading secrets, every CEO who raided the pensions of his employer, every knock on the door in the middle of the night as an informer puts down the phone, every parent who returned the love of their children with cruelty and abuse. Betrayal comes to us so easily, and sometimes we convince ourselves that it’s for the greater good; maybe Judas though that provoking a confrontation between Jesus and the authorities would be for the best, maybe he felt a Messiah who loved his enemies could only be a fraud, maybe Judas simply believed himself to be the hero in his own story.

Or maybe he was just in it for the money. It’s hard to say.

Loyalty, however, that’s something else. It takes work to be loyal, to resist the temptation to take the easy way out, to just follow orders. It’s hard not to become a monster if all your life you’ve lived among them. I can’t say I have sympathy for Judas, but I’m also not convinced he set out to become history’s greatest villain; in some ways he’s the banality of evil, selling out the Son of God for silver then hanging himself when he couldn’t handle the guilt. It’s an all too human act of betrayal, with all the terrible consequences that entails.

But wait, listen to what Jesus says: “Do what you came to do, friend.” He looks at his betrayer and calls him ‘friend’, an act of grace and maybe even forgiveness just before the mob closes in and the swords are drawn. And that one word, ‘friend’, sits at the heart of the story, the idea that Jesus welcomes us back, the idea that the everyday betrayals we see all around us could, in the shadow of the name ‘Judas’, be prevented, could even be forgiven, even if the consequences are rightly about to hit us like a freight train.

Judas takes his silver and walks away, but we stand in his footsteps, decisions to make. Do we take the money and run? Or do we take the harder path, steadfastness on the road to the Cross?

The other posts in this series are here.

Maundy Thursday 2014: Treason (John 13:18-30)

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When did Jesus know that Judas had turned traitor?

It’s hard to discern from the gospels, partly because it’s hard to get a grip on Judas’s motivations. Was he in it for the money? Was he a nationalist who wanted to force a confrontation between Jesus and the authorities? Did he finally get tired of listening to teachings he disagreed with? We don’t know, and a thousand and one theories and apocryphal texts don’t make things any clearer.

But Jesus knew, and that puts a scandalous slant on the story of the Last a Supper and washing the feet of the disciples. It’s not just the fact that a king kneels to serve his servants, controversial as that may be; no, here we have a king serving his betrayer, which is far more tragic and horrifying.

Our ideas of grace and love sometimes only extend so far. Embracing the broken and the lost is one thing; extending that to those actively plotting against us is something else entirely. What are you doing Jesus? At least tie Judas to a chair so he can’t go and sell you out.

But no; he washes Judas’s feet. He shares the Passover meal with him, and the implication is that Judas had a place of honour – it sounds like he’s sitting next to Jesus, which means that the Son of God is intentionally sharing a meal with a traitor.jesus said love your enemies – this is him living that out. It may even be the greatest example of that philosophy – after all, this betrayal came from within. This betrayal was personal.

This is not how we live. It’s alien, the idea that Judas should be here, among the Twelve, among all the other disciples who went out and performed miracles in the name of Christ. It’s not right. It’s not fair.

But this is Easter, and at Easter the rules lie broken in the shadow of the cross. The king rides a donkey. The traitor receives fellowship. ‘Tis mystery all, the immortal dies. And death? Death no longer has the last word. There are moments throughout the Easter story when we have to push aside our instinctive human reactions and see things like the washing of Judas’s feet not as crazy or tragic but as the coming of God’s kingdom.

Amid the blood and horror of Gethsemane and Golgotha, the kingdom comes; the Son takes his throne. And this is expressed through strange moments we struggle to understand. But that’s why grace is a scandal – it offends our sensibilities, yes, but is that because our sensibilities are forged by Earth more than they are by Heaven?

Judas walks away from the Last Supper and John makes it clear that the night has come. But this is not the end – a new day starts at nightfall; a new order is being born. A traitor is loved and, In this, the kingdom comes ever closer.