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?

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Wednesday in Holy Week 2015

Today we have Matthew’s account of the betrayal (Matthew 26.14–25), and how different it is from John’s! Here Jesus is utterly in control of the situation; it is the disciples who are distressed and thrown into confusion, and how dark is the colouring given to Judas. We are meant to shudder, and we do.

Is there any of us who does not know what it is, in some measure, to betray a friend or get things so badly wrong that we end up bringing about the very thing we most want to avoid? Can we find in Judas’s betrayal something that enables us both to forgive and ourselves accept forgiveness? It isn’t an easy question, and it doesn’t have an easy answer; but I think it is worth thinking and praying about because it gets to the heart of what we are celebrating this week: God’s infinite love and mercy, and his total forgiveness of human sin. We can’t earn his forgiveness; there are times when we are too stupid or stubborn to ask his forgiveness; yet he forgives! And he expects us to forgive, too. That doesn’t mean God approves of what we do when we sin. Forgiveness isn’t a quick-fix to restore a feel-good factor to our lives. It is meant to lead to conversion, to change, and it provides the energy and direction we need to make such a change.

I think we could usefully spend a few minutes today thinking about the people we don’t forgive — those we accuse of acting badly or dishonestly or in some way that we disapprove of — and then ask ourselves whether we are so sea-green incorruptible that we have the right to accuse others. I doubt whether any of us will come through such a period of reflection without becoming shame-faced. It will remind us to pray for Judas, and for the Judas we have discovered inside ourselves. All of us need the grace of conversion.Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail

The Shame of Holy Week

We read Matthew’s account of the betrayal today, but it is set in context by being linked with Isaiah 50. Jesus is not a victim in the sense that we usually use that word. He gives his life; it is not taken from him. But Matthew is harder on Judas than John is. Instead of a last, intimate dialogue which could have led to a different outcome, we have a brazen Judas defying Jesus, almost goading him to unmask him.

Here is the shame of Holy Week, when Truth stands before all our lies and half-lies. There is no confrontation, no attempt to challenge the falsity. The shabbiness of betrayal and deceit is shown up for what it is, but Jesus’ response to Judas is one of anguish, not condemnation. The medieval poets understood this better than most. They move from voice to voice, from Christ to the onlooker and back again, their lines marked with a huge compassion simply expressed. Christ is the noble lord betrayed by his beloved . . . ‘Lovely tear from lovely eye, why dost thou look so sore?’ . . . The believer can only mourn the wrong which results from that betrayal:

With sadness in my song
And grief at what I see
I sigh and mourn the wrong
Upon the gallows-tree.

We are very close to the Sacred Triduum now. Today is a day for confession of sins and a firm purpose of amendment. Sometimes the only way of dealing with shame is to acknowledge the source of it and allow God’s healing grace to flood the soul.Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail