Lost: Wednesday of Holy Week 2021

Photo by Trym Nilsen on Unsplash 

Many call today ‘Spy Wednesday’, the day when Judas finally betrayed Jesus and went in search of those who wanted him dead. Matthew’s account (Matthew 26.14-25 ) is a familiar narrative, but I wonder whether it is not a little too simple, too inclined to portray Judas as the arch-traitor beyond redemption. We know that despite the deal made earlier with the Chief Priests, there was still time for a change of heart, for a renewal of the old love and friendship between Judas and his Lord. But it didn’t happen, not then, at any rate, and we are left pondering the dynamic of what did occur. How we interpret that says as much about us as it does about Judas.

For generations, Christians have taken delight in placing Judas firmly in hell. We have off-loaded onto him all the betrayals and broken trust that has afflicted the world throughout the ages, and we feel safe doing so because what could be more villainous than to betray our Saviour for a paltry 30 pieces of silver? It is vicarious justification for actions that would otherwise seem harsh and unforgiving. But notice the image that stands at the head of this post. It is a lost toy, a sad little bear. It wasn’t chosen arbitrarily. 

To me the photo is a reminder that Jesus and Judas were friends, and Jesus never stopped loving him. What might that mean? There is an innocence, a playfulness, about friendship we often forget when we think of Jesus and the disciples. Judas, himself possibly a Zealot, may have been disappointed in Jesus’ failure to become the political leader he hoped for, but was Jesus disappointed in Judas? Did Judas’s company bring him joy right up to the end and that painful parting of ways? Was Judas a friend still, lost in some ways, but always close to his heart? In other words, is it possible that we see the relationship between Jesus and Judas in ways that fit our own narrative rather than what truly occurred between them?

We cannot answer such questions with certainty, but those words of Jesus, ‘Better for that man if he had never been born!’, suggest to me not the prospect of eternal punishment but of eternal anguish. If true, Jesus did not approve of what Judas had done but forgave him and grieved at the suffering that lay before him. That is an important point, because it leaves open the question whether Judas is condemned to hell for all eternity in the way we tend to assume. In any case, we must remember it is Judas’s despair of God’s mercy, not his betrayal, that has always been considered the greater sin. We can see why. Such despair is to doubt the very nature of God, his love, mercy and forgiveness.

That thought should make us uncomfortable. The way we see Judas says a great deal about how we ourselves see God and the trust (or lack of it) that we have in his love and forgiveness. God does not approve of sin, anyone’s sin. He does not endorse the wrong we do or pretend it doesn’t matter, but he does forgive — utterly. It is we who hold others (and sometimes ourselves) to account, we who say ‘I cannot forgive X or Y’ as though it were a virtue in us; and we habitually assume God is of the same mind. Perhaps today we might spend a few moments thinking about that. Jesus on the cross suffered and died for us while we were still sinners. How dare we be less merciful than he? How dare we make ourselves, or anyone else, to be lost? We are not discarded toys. We are infinitely precious in God’s eyes, and his desire is that we should be with him for all eternity.

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11 thoughts on “Lost: Wednesday of Holy Week 2021”

  1. Thank you. I have always clung to the ‘dream’ that just as Jesus was actually entering Heaven He turned, saw Judas suffering in ‘Purgatory’ , and said, “Come on in with Me”. This is a spiritual ‘dream’. One day, in the not too distant future, both you and I will know whether my dream is true. Dear Sister, till then … God Bless you and all your nuns.

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  2. Exactly Sister, If Jesus, maybe was given more time by God, He maybe could have formed a better relationship with Judas? May we release through pray all are failings and dreams that were out of gods time.

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  3. With our own earthly friendships, don’t we forgive disagreements, things that may hurt us, or behaviour we don’t like? In my own friendships, as I have gotten older, being right all or part of the time, has faded. Expressing anger has reduced then has the anger.

    We are all sinners and maybe Jesus wasn’t avoiding working on the quality of his friendship with Judas, but loving unconditionally, letting it be, avoiding confrontation- also knowing His father would show mercy and forgive Judas for his betrayal.

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  4. Since childhood I have felt deep sadness about Judas. My littlekid mind, absorbing the story of the death of Our Lord, knew that betrayal was a necessary part of the terrible choreography of those days.

    Like Peter, who betrayed his knowledge Jesus in the courtyard and then wept, Judas, who committed the ultimate betrayal, tried to undo some of it by throwing down at the High Priests his thirty pieces of silver. Their refusal to touch blood money always seemed to me to be like Pilate washing his hands—a cynical maneuver to take on some appearance of “virtue,” a cover-up of complicity. I think that is the moment that broke Judas—his dearest friend betrayed to death through actions he could not undo (oh, that terrible kiss and embrace) and those wily opportunists who were so willing to pay him refusing to take back their loot. His despair must gave been apocalyptic.

    His going out into the outer darkness of this world—which foreshadows the outer darkness he surely thought he must be assigned to—his hanging of himself must have been in dreadful pain, utter anguish and remorse, terrible despair: wherever could he find a sliver of redemption? In his wretchedness, nowhere. His solitary execution of himself is dreadful to contemplate.

    And yet…his betrayal is essential to the steps leading to the crucifixion and the resurrection, and thence to our own redemption. So, since childhood, I have prayed for Judas, for the infinite mercy of Our Lord, who in that time between His death and resurrection, may have found and beckoned to Judas, and held him. It may not hold up theologically, but it held my childhood heart, and so, to this day, I pray for Judas.

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  5. In the Apostles Creed, Jesus descended into hell, he must have had a purpose in doing so. I attended and investigated a number of suicides in my career. I can still picture some of them in my mind. The situations and contents of letters to loved ones led me to believe that they were not of ‘sound mind’ and had often reached a situation beyond their control. I believe we are judged by what’s in our heart and not the mind.

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    • Indeed. Traditionally despair is a sin, but surely He who refrains from quenching the smoking flax will, in his own good purposes, bring Judas and all suicides to a place of refreshment, light and peace?

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  6. Can Judas be redeemed for his betrayal and his despair of mercy? a huge question given the betrayal and sometimes despair that we are all capable off. It brings to mind Julian of Norwich’s “shewings” and her questioning as to how all things can be well given the cruelty and sin of the world and the response she gets is “What is impossible to you is not impossible to me. I shall keep my word in all things and I shall make all things well.”

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  7. Dear Sr Catherine, thank you once again! You again cracked open the Scriptures for me, thought provoking challenging change to happen. Every year I place in our Three Hour Devotion pew booklet the Ballad of the Judas Tree, by Ruth Etchells. And every year I feel like a rebel. I am in complete solidarity with your reflection above!

    Peace and All Goodness

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