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Tuesday, October 29, 2013

I'm in Love with Judas

Judas Iscariot. Probably few names carry so much stigma, so much detestation. Call an American a "Benedict Arnold" with sincerity and they'll know you're implying something pretty serious. Call them "Judas" with a straight face and you may have just ruined a friendship. It doesn't feel good to be brought to Judas' level - the lowest of the morally low.

Judas, after all, betrayed God. He literally sold out Jesus for wealth, and not even fabulous wealth but a modest sum (30 pieces of silver). He took someone he loved, someone who was Love to him, and rejected him for his own selfish desires. Maybe it was jealousy. Maybe it was greed. But whatever it was, it was petty and inexcusable and something none of us would ever do, surely.

Of course, if you've been a Christian for a while, you've probably thought or been told, "Well not so fast - you and I are just like Judas because when we sin we reject and betray God too." That's true. Making that connection, seeing Judas as the archetype for all of us is extremely valuable, and transformative if you let yourself reflect deeply on it.

But what if even that really isn't the story of Judas? We know Scripture tells us the Satan "entered" Judas and this was partly the cause of his betrayal. Beyond that, we don't know Judas' motivations, though a love of money probably played some part.

But what if there's more to Judas? What if greed and inexcusable, outright rejection isn't the whole story? What if there's more of ourselves in Judas that we care to admit?

I learned an important lesson during my time in grad school: an apologist is not a theologian is not an exegete is not an ethicist, and so on. So let me say I'm not trying to do theology or exegesis. I'm not trying to rewrite Tradition or even offer a different explanation of Judas for the truth of the matter. But examining another possibility gives us an exercise and a different perspective, one that may prove more helpful for the developed Christian.

What if Judas was a decent guy? What if Judas didn't hate Jesus, didn't have anything against him, and actually wanted him to succeed? And what if that were the problem?

I remember hearing a theory about Judas. The theory entertains the idea that Judas was (almost) just as faithful as the other apostles. He loved Jesus immensely. But he desired "success" for Jesus and success on the prevailing terms of the time. Admiration. Freedom from Roman rule. Political power.

Maybe Judas thought Jesus had wasted enough time already. Why didn't Jesus just reveal himself as the Messiah and lead Israel into a golden age? Jesus was missing his window; the people were ready. But It seemed Jesus needed a push. Threaten Clark Kent and he'd reveal himself as Superman. Arrest Jesus and he would show his divine power. He'd be revealed for whom he truly was.

That wasn't what happened, of course. Judas' betrayal didn't force Jesus' hand and it didn't turn God into the god Judas wanted. Judas didn't get to have God on his own terms.

Judas perhaps saw in Jesus the strong leader, the charismatic personality, the surety of conviction, and the strength to do whatever it took to save God's people. But he didn't see the utter humility. He didn't see the total rejection of political power and of divine force when Jesus was tempted in the desert. Judas didn't see that the Christ planned to teach and to achieve through suffering. Judas saw only the parts he wanted to see.

And aren't we the same? Aren't we a little in love with Judas, with our own ideas of who and how God should be? This helps explain why so many Christians love a strong show of force, love when we're elevated rather than brought low, love to refashion God based on our own rules ("drinking is wrong, even though Jesus did it!"). And it explains why so many Christians reject suffering, especially in their own lives. Suffering isn't a very respectable, let alone attractive path.

Just this morning I heard a definition of suffering not as pain but as resistance. Resistance to the pain is suffering. Resistance to God's plan is suffering. Resistance to the Great Truth that has its being completely outside of us and yet dwells within us is suffering. Resistance to going down as the way of going up is suffering.

Based on that definition, oh how Judas must have suffered! It's no wonder he was tormented. He had missed the message of Jesus, the gospel, completely. We risk doing the same when we don't trust in God and can't be critical of our own attitudes and assumptions. 

Judas' way is a path to power, something so immensely attractive to wealthy megachurch pastors, to the bishops, and to all of us through our human nature and American values. In this way, Judas serves as a sort of prophet-in-the-negative, giving us a warning not so much of what not to do but of how not to be. It's easy to love Judas' way but it ultimately can't lead us up at all. It leads us down into the darkness of our selves.

Related Posts:
Forgiving the Unforgivable: Betrayal, Sept. 11, and a Navy Shipyard
The Real and True Enemy

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