Today’s Lectionary Passage: John 13: 21-32
21After saying this Jesus was troubled in spirit, and declared, “Very truly, I tell you, one of you will betray me.” 22The disciples looked at one another, uncertain of whom he was speaking. 23One of his disciples—the one whom Jesus loved—was reclining next to him; 24Simon Peter therefore motioned to him to ask Jesus of whom he was speaking. 25So while reclining next to Jesus, he asked him, “Lord, who is it?” 26Jesus 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. 27After he received the piece of bread, Satan entered into him. Jesus said to him, “Do quickly what you are going to do.” 28Now no one at the table knew why he said this to him. 29Some 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. 30So, after receiving the piece of bread, he immediately went out. And it was night. 31When he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. 32If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once.
Poor Judas! We take this story so literally most of the time, pinning all the bad in all the world on the one that Biblical translations and exegetical interpretations have branded the betrayer, the bad seed, the evil one, the poster child for the worst sin imagineable. In fact, Dante’ puts Judas in the fourth level of the ninth circle of hell, the lowest rung of the inferno, along with Brutus and Brutus’ co-hort Cassius. Me? I tend to err more on the side of mercy. Because truth be known, don’t you think that Simon Peter was nervous when he was asking that question. “Lord, who is it?” In other words, “is it I”? “Am I the one that will betray my Lord?” After all, I’m not sure than any of the disciples really came to the forefront. None of them stood out that night or the next day as glowing examples of who God calls us to be. They were scared; they were unsure about their own well-being; and they were certainly unsure what life would hold next. Maybe some had begun to figure out what was about to happen. I think most of them were like us, living in some sort of state of denial thinking that we are doing the right thing and that everything will turn out alright.
And don’t you think that all of them, Judas included, looked back on the night the next morning and thought, “If only…if only I could turn back time.”? (yeah, I know that’s a Cher song!) So why did Judas do it? Oh, please, why do any of us do what we do? We all have regrets; we’ve all made mistakes; we’ve all wished that somehow we could turn back time. The truth is, there is a little Judas in all of us. But in this same passage, there is another character introduced: “the one whom Jesus loved”. This is the epitome of light against the foil of Judas in his darkest hour as his actions usher in the time that brings Jesus’ presence as the light of this world to a close. There is all kinds of speculation. Was it someone that we don’t know? Was it Mary Magdelene? Or was it, perhaps, even Judas?
Judas could not live with what he had done. The writer of Matthew’s Gospel says that Judas would end his own life that next morning. (Matthew 27: 3-5)
When Judas, his betrayer, saw that Jesus was condemned, he repented and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders. 4He said, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.” But they said, “What is that to us? See to it yourself.” 5Throwing down the pieces of silver in the temple, he departed; and he went and hanged himself.
And yet, Jesus, knowing what was about to happen, welcomed Judas to the table; in fact, Jesus welcomed all of them, that motley crew of misfits that never really could get it together and were always in competition with each other, that lot of sinners and saints. The truth is we are all both–the betrayer and the beloved, the sinner and the saint. God does not love us in spite of who we are; God loves us because of who we are. The question that we should ask ourselves is whether or not we believe that anyone is ever beyond God’s redemption, beyond God’s love, beyond God’s power to pick up and recreate. This night of betrayal does not end that way. This night ends with love and with life. Because, you see, when it’s all said and done, God really does turn back time.
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. (From “Waiting for Judas”, by Madeleine L’Engle, in Bread and Wine: Readings for Lent and Easter (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2003), 312.)
So, as you walk through this week, remember that we are all Judas but, more importantly, we are all beloved. And, remember, that God really does turn back time, so to speak, gathering all of us to the table and recreating us into the fullness of God’s vision for all. But God cannot begin until you come.
“If I Could Turn Back Time” (Cher)
Grace and Peace,