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. 33Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come.’
I’ve always thought that Judas sort of got a bad rap. Oh, I think his judgment was WAY off but it wasn’t worth getting thrown into Dante’s 9th circle of hell. (According to Dante Alighieri’s Inferno, Judas is condemned to the bowels of Round 4 of the lowest realm of hell between Brutus and Cassius and resides there with Satan. It is aptly named Judecca.) I mean, what if Judas, misdirected as he may have been, was trying to adjust the outcome of what was to happen on the Cross? What if he was like so many of us that think that we can be our own saviors, that we can save the world at the expense of what is meant to be and just end up getting in the way? What if Judas in his own misdirected way was trying to help? We can identify. After all, we are part of a world and, in particular, a society that has a view that everyone is responsible for their own circumstances (yeah, that’s wrong), that everyone can save themselves (yeah, that’s wrong too!).
But Jesus knew. Jesus knew what Judas was going to do, perhaps even before Judas knew. He wasn’t psychic. He just knew Judas. Judas was headstrong, stubborn, and empathetic beyond compare. Judas cared. Judas wanted to do something important. Judas thought he could change the world, or at least the outcome of the demise of his Lord. Judas would make a bad decision, thinking that everything would come out alright. And, then, when it didn’t, Judas couldn’t live with himself. He would die at his own hand, destined to spend eternity behind a mask of a traitor when he just thought he was helping.
I know it’s a different take. But I wore a mask yesterday. I went to the grocery store (haven’t been in two weeks) and organized the basket between “my stuff” and “Mom & Dad’s stuff”. And, since I’m usually a rule follower, I wore a mask. I wasn’t the only one but I was definitely in the minority (people, really?). See, we’re not asked to wear them for ourselves but for others. So, maybe, I thought, I could change the world. The truth is that it’s REALLY uncomfortable. It’s hot and by the end of the venture, I almost couldn’t breathe. The worst part is that when I go to the grocery store, I engage with people. I help older people that can’t reach things. I assist guys that are there with a list from their wives looking for some specific brand of instant cappuccino. And I talk to people, laughing with those that I keep encountering as we go through the aisles together. But now we’re behind a mask–isolated, alone, just going about our own business with little or no engagement. For those of us who think that we can be a part of saving the world, this mask prevents it.
It’s a lesson. We all have masks. We think they protect us. They do. But sometimes they keep us from engaging with others. Sometimes they close us off to engagement. And sometimes, sometimes, they sink us into a hell of our own making. But even in this time of isolation, God waits. God waits for us to engage and realize that we’ve been found–no matter what we’ve done, no matter what the world has dished out, no matter what we think cannot be undone.
I have recently discovered the music of “Only Boys Aloud”. It’s a Welsh boy’s choir started by Tim Rhys-Evans. He realized that the choirs of Wales were getting older and were no longer such an important part of community, so he started this composite choir from all realms of Wales with a focus, particularly, on bringing community to the boys of the many economically-depressed parts of Wales.
And so, 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]
[i] From “Waiting for Judas”, by Madeleine L’Engle, in Bread and Wine: Readings for Lent and Easter (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2003), 312.
On this day, pray for all of us–the lost, the broken, the ones who have masked our feelings and masked our hurts. Pray for those of us who are feeling lost. Because, the promise of the Resurrection is not that we will be rewarded but that we will be found.
The journey is continuing. And you, you’ve been found.