The Parting of Friends: Jesus and Judas

Today we recall the parting of friends. Judas betrays Jesus and sets in motion the events we shall be re-living over the next few days. Put like that, everything is low-key, seemingly inevitable. We miss the drama, the anguish, the tortured love that goes on loving. For what we often forget is that Jesus loved Judas, and Judas loved Jesus. No matter that each was deeply disappointed in the other; no matter that there was a parting of ways; love did not, and could not, turn to hatred. 

Judas seems to have wanted Jesus to restore Israel’s political independence. His messianic hope was apparently focused on this world only. I say ‘seems’ and ‘apparently’ because we do not know. For centuries he has been demonised as the arch-betrayer, the clever man with astute financial skills, who sent Jesus to his death and was rewarded with what he desired most, a few more coins for his purse. What did Jesus want from Judas? Would it be too simplistic to say, he wanted his friendship, his company, that he enjoyed being with him and hoped that Judas would understand his mission as he himself had come to understand it? When Judas stepped out into the night, didn’t he long for him to turn back? Didn’t consciousness of their being on separate paths wound him? And when Judas began to see the consequences of his action, didn’t he feel a similar pain? When friends fall out, there is sadness on both sides.

Jesus did not approve of Judas’s betrayal, he condemned it, but he did not condemn Judas himself. To me that ‘Alas for that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! Better for that man if he had never been born!’ is a cry of pain, of sympathy even, for the suffering Judas will experience as a result of his actions. I think we sometimes forget that, as Christians, we cannot endorse that which we believe to be wrong but that does not mean we love the perpetrator any the less. Society often gets itself into a bind. On the one hand it believes that someone is responsible for every perceived wrong and should be made to pay for it; on the other, that there should be universal tolerance of anything and everything. That can be particularly hard for those of us trying to live a Christian life, but I think we can take heart from the interaction between Jesus and Judas. Jesus condemns the sin in no uncertain terms, but not the sinner. The public utterance and the private feeling may strike the casual reader as being at odds with one another. In reality,  they are all of a piece. God’s love never comes to an end. In the Dialogues, Catherine of Siena hears from the Lord that he has mercy for Judas, too. He died for him, as he died for you and me. Let that sink in for a moment. Jesus died for Judas. The question I ask myself, therefore, is: if Judas is not forgiven, are we?

Audio Version

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18 thoughts on “The Parting of Friends: Jesus and Judas”

  1. Was it not Fulton Sheen who said, “Tolerance applies only to persons, never to principles. “Intolerance applies only to principles, but never to people.” As ever, Sister, thank you for your wise words.

  2. Year after year I listened to the Lenten talks given by the Head Master of our local Catholic school. His treatment of Judas was always brutal to the extreme. On one occasion I drove him home after the talk (he is a non-driver) I said to him, “modern scholarship has a more humane attitude toward Judas.” To which he replied without hesitation, “He betrayed the Lord, that’s it.” No discussion! but he is a PhD head master, decorated by Her Majesty for his contribution to education. Who am I? Thank you Dame Catherine for this thought provoking piece on love.

    • Oddly enough, Leon, I’ve had 4 emails this morning telling me where I’m wrong about Judas and that he is rotting in hell (the implication being that I may join him, I suspect!). René Girard is so helpful on the subject of scape-goating. I think we have such a long history of making Judas bear the blame for all our own betrayals that we have no room for a more kindly perspective. Glad you do.

  3. Dear Sister Catherine,
    Judas committed suicide presumably out of guilt for betraying his friend to the authorities, a deed leading to our Lord’s death. All the events in Holy Week were predestined – God’s will to impress upon the world from then onward that redemption and salvation is available to everyone who chooses faith, grace and the course of peace, love and forgiveness. And that whatever one has done, God still loves us.
    Judas played his part as did Peter, Mary Magdalene, Pontius Pilate, Mary the Virgin and all the others involved in the entry into Jerusalem, the Last Supper, the trial, crucifixion, burial and resurrection of our dear Lord Jesus.
    If Judas had not killed himself, would Jesus have blessed and forgiven him after resurrection? Undoubtedly.
    Judas was the sheep who strayed, but riddled with guilt and remorse couldn’t bear to live on.
    Does Judas occupy a special place in Heaven? I like to think so.

  4. I hope this isn’t a stupid question: Judas was identified to the other disciples as the betrayer, so why did none of them try to stop him? Did Jesus see this as another instance where they didn’t grasp the importance of what he was saying, and so let him down again? Wouldn’t he have felt hurt? Or was it simply what had to happen?

    • Not a stupid question, a big and important one. Unfortunately, I can’t answer it, nor do I think anyone can, this side of eternity. The gospels are not straightforward historical records. That is, they do not correspond to what we would think of as ‘factual’ accounts of events. The dialogue put on the lips of Jesus and Judas may have taken place as given by Matthew; it may not. We certainly don’t know whether anyone overheard it or understood it. One of the other evangelists, for example, says the disciples thought Jesus was telling Judas to go and buy something for the feast. It was reflecting on the event afterwards that led Matthew and the other gospel writers to see patterns and significances they were keen to explain. I think many commentators take the view that the betrayal by Judas is a necessary part of the passion narrative but prefer to leave the psychology of the matter to the individual to think about.

    • Your questions made me smile – but not because I thought any were stupid!

      I sometimes wonder if the disciples where there to make us all feel less stupid in the future. I find it immensely reassuring that they had Jesus in front of them, seem to have been far better informed of scripture than I am: Yet they still struggled to understand.

      I wonder, even if they did know what Judas was going to do, would they have tried to stop Judas? Could they have? Should they have?

      (Trying to wrestle with the balance between God’s omniscience and free will makes my head hurt.)

  5. I think that’s an interesting perspective Sister Catherine. I’m not sure I could quite agree with it though. The Scriptures seem rather direct. What I would say is that I would not place Judas into the dock of God’s court and accuse him. The treachery of my own sin is difficult enough.

    • You are in good company! A few people have expressed complete rejection of the points I try to make to make in my post, but I think a lot depends on how one interprets scripture and one’s own experience of God’s mercy. For some, scripture is to be taken more or less literally; others argue for a more nuanced understanding in the light of the development of the early Church. No prizes for guessing where I would stand.

  6. Sr. Catherine, I love this reflection. I don’t know if Judas is in hell or not. I barely know scripture. But I reject anyone telling me that Judas must be in hell or even an implication that Jesus could not have forgiven him. I simply believe as mere mortals we need do not know God’s ways and thoughts. I believe (and trust!) more in His Divine Mercy than anyone else’s judgment of Judas (and their judgment of me for not saddling up with their hell belief/theory).

    What I will say next will further perturb those who are galvanized against the thought that Jesus may have embraced Judas: every time we sin, aren’t we a reflection of Judas? After all, Jesus on the Cross is the result of ALL of our sins — not just Judas’s. Doesn’t MY sin betray Jesus on the Cross? Insofar as Jesus could not have forgiven Judas, how could He ever forgive me?

    But then my haters may race to conclude that Judas committed suicide, and THAT is the difference between Judas and a sinner like ME (or them) asking for forgiveness before death. They have it all figured out, don’t they? It’s so simple, right?

    I don’t think so. I think Jesus is MORE than a set of rules by which I attain heaven if I played them just right. There is absolutely nothing simple about the Garden of Gethsemane and sweating blood, scourging, a crown of thorns, crucifixion, Mary’s sorrows.

    I can rest easily in one certainty: no matter how I am judged by Jesus, I will never find a better, fairer judge. That cannot be said about any mortal judge on this earth. And I have another certainty: I will never have another judge who possesses Jesus’s Divine Mercy. So if Jesus judges me unfit for the Kingdom, I had a fair trial by the fairest, kindest Judge.

    I would rather be flat out wrong about everything I believe in and be like the prodigal son (whom the father welcomed back), or simply loved by Jesus, like Lazarus (whom Jesus wept for) than to be “right.” And as such, shouldn’t we be praying for a forgiving Lord, who Himself will decide as the Lord of the Vineyard to afford miserable creatures like me full pay for barely starting His work in the Vineyard if and when He chooses?

    Dear Sister, may your Lenten reflections and prayers yield hope and love in Christ’s Resurrection over Death! They certainly have for me and I thank you.

  7. Did Jesus wash Judas’ feet as He washed the feet of the other apostles? Jesus knew what was to come. If He washed his feet that says a lot to me.

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