|The Judas Tree|
Lectionary Text: John 13: 21-32
After saying this Jesus was troubled in spirit, and declared, “Very truly, I tell you, one of you will betray me.” The disciples looked at one another, uncertain of whom he was speaking. One of his disciples—the one whom Jesus loved—was reclining next to him; Simon Peter therefore motioned to him to ask Jesus of whom he was speaking. So while reclining next to Jesus, he asked him, “Lord, who is it?” Jesus answered, “It is the one to whom I give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish.” So when he had dipped the piece of bread, he gave it to Judas son of Simon Iscariot. After he received the piece of bread, Satan entered into him. Jesus said to him, “Do quickly what you are going to do.” Now no one at the table knew why he said this to him. Some thought that, because Judas had the common purse, Jesus was telling him, “Buy what we need for the festival”; or, that he should give something to the poor. So, after receiving the piece of bread, he immediately went out. And it was night. When he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once.
Jesus knew who would betray him. It was his friend, the one that had accompanied him as he traveled around the lake teaching, the one who had met his family, the one who on those long nights after those just-as-long frustrating days had listened to him. In fact, it would be the one he trusted. The one who held the purse that bought them small but nourishing meals and paid their way, the one that had figured out how to budget the money so that they could get to Jerusalem. It was the one that had it together. It was the last one that he would have thought would do this. But Jesus knew who would betray him. It hurt, hurt more deeply than anyone would ever know. Et Tu, Judas? Even you, Judas?
|“Kiss of Judas”
Duccio di Buoninsegna (1308)
The others will never figure it out. They are too busy trying to figure out who it is (and trying to make sure that it’s not them!) Isn’t that what we do? In an odd sort of way, this Scripture holds some degree of comfort for us. After all, Judas is bad, SO bad that whatever it is we mess up can’t possibly be as bad. And so the world blames Judas for all of our wrongs. Because, if we make Judas look bad, then maybe we won’t look as bad as we know we might be. Dante would place him in the fourth level of the ninth rung of hell. Now let me tell you, that is NOT good. According to Dante’s Inferno, Judas shares this rung with Brutus and Cassius, who played a part in the murder of Julius Caesar. (Et Tu, Brute?) We are no better. As long as there is a Judas, we
are not the worst.
But, really, do you think God desires our innocence? If that was the case, we might as well all hang it up right now! The truth is, none of us is innocent. Innocence died a really long time ago. And, interestingly enough, God didn’t have any need to resurrect that. God does not desire our innocence; God desires us. God desires repentance, reconciliation, and redemption. God calls us to turn toward God, be with God, and accept that gift of forgiveness that God offers us. That’s all it takes. If God wanted perfect people, I’m thinking God would have made them. God would have populated the world with a bunch of stepford pod-people and things probably would have gone a lot smoother. I don’t know…maybe God wanted better dinner conversation. Maybe God desired a good story. Or maybe, just maybe, God wanted us to choose God rather than being compelled by something other than ourself. And so God offers forgiveness for whatever we’ve pulled in the past. Barbara Brown Taylor, in Speaking of Sin, contends that it is sin that is our only hope. Because it is when we know that we have failed, when we know that we have moved farther away from God, when we name what it is that stands in our way, that the doors will swing open with a force we never knew and all of a sudden, we find ourselves sitting at the table in a place that we did not think we deserved. Isn’t God incredible? So, why do we need to blame Judas? We are all looking for God. Sometimes we just make bad choices. But God always offers us another chance. Forgiveness is the starting point for change, the beginning of the rest of our eternity.
Madeleine L’Engle tells an old legend that after his death Judas found himself at the bottom of a deep and slimy pit. For thousands of years he wept his repentance, and when the tears were finally spent he looked up and saw, way, way up, a tiny glimmer of light. After he had contemplated it for another thousand years or so, he began to try to climb up towards it. The walls of the pit were dank and slimy, and he kept slipping back down. Finally, after great effort, he neared the top, and then he slipped and fell all the way back down. It took him many years to recover, all the time weeping bitter tears of grief and repentance, and then he started to climb again. After many more falls and efforts and failures he reached the top and dragged himself into an upper room with twelve people seated around a table. “We’ve been waiting for you, Judas. We couldn’t begin till you came.”[i]