I have been rescuing a few posts from years before, and thought that I had done enough when I remembered that I had blogged on Judas Iscariot, so went looking for those posts. I think they are worth rescuing. They were originally posted in March 2009, here they are in slightly modified form.
WWJD – what would Jesus do? WDJDWD – not quite as catchy, and not likely to take off as a trend, yet I think an important question: why did Judas do what he did?
The conventional reading is of Judas as thoroughly evil, the betrayer from the beginning. And if one is of a Calvinist bent, one predestined to betray Jesus (and implications in that for choice / accountability?). There are always some tough Scriptures that clash against any and all viewpoints, but I suggest that there is another reading of the Judas narratives that fits better. I have long been provoked by the similarities between Peter and Judas. One denied Jesus – and not once but three times; the other betrayed him. One was heartbroken at his own failure – oh, yes, so was the other one and took his own life as a result. One lived to be restored – the other…
Is there really a great difference between the two?
Could it have been different? I think it could have been very different. It is that that gives me hope. Hope because there is a bit of Judas in us all – and dare I say it a little more than a bit. Perhaps also that same Judas ‘spirit’ has infiltrated so much of what we have done as church and our proclamation of the Gospel.
It was my good friend Johnny Barr who was the first one to speak about the connection of Judas’ weakness and the task Jesus gave him. The task: look after the money. The weakness: love of money, to the extent that he was called a thief!
A love of money and looking after the money bag. Great choice for a church treasurer!
Why the choice of treasurer?
What is taking place? I am sure there is a depth to this choice that we do not fully understand but there are at least three key elements:
- Jesus is showing that he trusts his Father as his supply and that he was not relying even on ‘good stewardship’ for his provision.
- Jesus is demonstrating that people are always valued higher than money. He is showing that people cannot be valued in monetary terms.
- Jesus is discipling Judas. His discipleship is not through confronting his weakness, but enabling Judas to look at his weakness in the eye.
There is enough in those three points to bring about significant correction to my approach to life. Prophetic critiques of Israel were centred around two issues: you are not trusting God a) as your Provider nor b) as your Protector. Nothing has shifted at the level of prophetic critique that comes to God’s people.
The actions of Jesus are challenging for anyone professing to be a Christian and involved in earning money. The bottom line for a ‘kingdom’ business can never be that of money. Indeed maximising profits cannot be justified, not even justified by ‘we will have so much more to give’. The means cannot cleanse the final product. Perhaps a key element in business is a strategic plan where and how to lose money. Seems Jesus had that plan. Money is neutral, but the spirit that operates in that realm is not neutral and a radical response is what Jesus showed to that spirit. Of course he had first dealt with it in the wilderness when offered the ‘kingdoms of this world’.
If money is the bottom line, then people will fall by the way, they will become dispensable. If people are the focus money will find its place.
Jesus’ discipling I think reversed so much of what we do. We tend to confront weakness and cover sin. Jesus covered weakness and exposed sin through the person gaining self-perception.
I have lived my life many times at a level of hiddenness. By that I don’t mean deep hidden sin, but at the level of not facing up to my reactions, such as fears, anxieties, anger or arrogance. Those reaciton that reveal what resides within. Discipleship, following Jesus, allowing him to shape us seems to begin with a healthy dose of self-discovery.
I suggest that there is never a breakthrough to a new level without self-discovery
So back to Judas and money.
Jesus deliberately gave him the money bag. I am sure that Jesus knew exactly about Judas’ weakness. In giving him the finances to look after he was provoking Judas to come to a place of self-discovery, and to go beyond that self-discovery to the place of honesty. He had the opportunity to come to Jesus privately, and say something along the lines of ‘I would rather not look after the money’ (but in Greek or Aramaic of course!). I am sure that Jesus would have been very happy to work with Judas in his weakness, making arrangements for Andrew (for example) to look after the money. Weaknesses, such as Judas had are not an issue to Jesus. They are simply an issue to us, and if not faced up to, that issue will have serious repercussions.
Here then is a root. The weakness is not the problem. Denying the weakness is the problem. Honesty is where it all begins. In the parable of the seed and the four soils, one Gospel writer describes the soil as good and honest soil.
I see the same principle in the thought behind the phrase in the Lord’s prayer: lead us not into temptation. Scripture says God does not tempt, but here we come close to the opposite of that belief. I read the phrase in the prayer as a cry for self-discovery and a level of honesty to what we discover. ‘I am weak, I am liable to go wrong, so I ask that you protect me so that my weaknesses are not exposed so that they are exploited. I humble myself…’
Honesty concerning our weaknesses and the clothing of humility is the path for the disciple. The path way of ‘never would that happen to me’ is not the way for the disciple to travel.
Judas and Peter might be similar in many ways. Maybe they essentially began on the same path but but at the level of honesty there was a divergence right there. We can have a weakness and seek to cover it, or we uncover it / let it be uncovered and find that there is a protection from heaven.
Judas carried with him an unresolved personal weakness. Maybe that weakness was a love of money, but the more serious issue was his inability to be honest about himsel. Self-justification becomes a major hurdle for him and for us.
A vision for the kingdom
Judas (and we, of course) know better. We have a kingdom vision.
Judas has an unresolved inner issue. That is serious but when this unresolved issue connects to a vision of the kingdom, then the problems multiply. Here then is the reading of Judas life that becomes so vital for us. Judas has a vision for the kingdom, for a different world, he connects to Jesus, believes in this Messiah. So far so good, but as time goes on can see things Jesus cannot see. He can clearly see the pathway of peace, of non-violent resistance will never bring in the kingdom, but rather it will crushed. Power, and the exercise of it is important. Getting to the place of influence is obviously the way to go. Judas can see that Jesus’ method and pathway is the pathway to captivity or even to martyrdom (and a futile martyrdom at that). It is not the pathway to confront the evil powers and put the world aright. So…
A plan is hatched. A plan that necessitates Jesus first receiving a gentle but rude awakening. Jesus will have to realise that to succeed he has to step it up a level and exercise his authority where and how it matters. After all, Judas believes in this Messiah. Judas, I suggest, believes he has a strong element of righteous care for the Messiah.
So he arranges for a group of captors to come and he knows how Jesus will respond. He has been with Jesus who has raised the dead, walked unharmed through hostile crowds. This will be the moment, and what a moment it will be. Right there in Jerusalem (God’s centre) with an exposure of God’s enemy (Rome). A climactic moment for the kingdom, for the moving forward of Jesus’ mission. Bring out the soldiers and Jesus will assert himself. Then truly the movement will move into the next phase, the kingdom will advance. Success, rather than failure, will result.
Jesus will take his place, visibly as the promised one. Of course the disciples will also have a place. Maybe even Judas will gain a key place for his catalytic role in bringing about the next phase. Israel will rally round, and on the movement will go from Jerusalem to Samaria, and on to the ends of the earth! Truly Judas to the rescue.
A likely scenario? I think what I present is a lot more plausible and makes more sense of the texts than the simple ‘Judas was evil and wanted to betray Jesus’ interpretation.
Yes, he betrayed Jesus. But maybe so much of what has been done in the name of Jesus, and done to help him, because we know better how the kingdom should come, has also betrayed him. Do we not hear again and again: Jesus, yes; but the church, no.
The kingdom comes, but how it comes is often a mystery. It comes in weakness. It comes when we feel we have been misunderstood, marginalised, and history records, even when we have been martyred. The first resurrection (John in Revelation), the better resurrection (Priscilla in Hebrews) was reserved in Jewish thought for the martyrs. [OK we are not quite sure if Priscilla wrote Hebrews, but then we don’t also know for sure if John, one of the 12, wrote Revelation either!!]
Judas is shocked. He cannot believe that Jesus is captured. Personal weakness and his vision of the kingdom, his ability to know what will help the cause, brings him to the point of despair. However this is not too unlike Peter, who cuts off the ear of the servant, and then goes on to deny Jesus, and to do it three times.
Peter is given a fresh commission, in spite of his own mistakes and weakness. Three times he is asked if he loves Jesus, three times he is commissioned to look after the sheep. Judas is given no second chance, but had he stayed around? We’ll never know what might have been for him. He simply did not stay around long enough to be freshly commissioned.
His journey began with an unresolved personal weakness.It ended in suicide, but…
Before he commits suicide he is delivered of his personal weakness. Money no longer holds him as he throws it back to the religious powers. The death of Jesus is a delivering death, and even Judas is an evidence of this.
He throws it back in the Temple. The place that stood, no longer as a house of prayer for the nations, but as a ‘den of robbers’, a place that stood as a sign of the compromising union of religion and money. What an uneasy truce was there. Religion offered support to the Imperial power, and the Imperial power gave them freedom. The money crashes back in there. A statement of Judas’ new inner freedom, and a prophetic sign that true faith will be freed from the domination of Mammon.
Inner freedom. Don’t be too quick to act Judas, you are free, free, free at last. You were not alone in betraying Jesus. I was there too. But…
He moves quickly, the regret and grief is too strong for him to handle, and takes his own life.
What would have happened if he had hung on another day or two? Maybe he could have been like the husband and wife on the way to Emmaus:
we thought he would restore the kingdom, and he has been crucified, and now it is the third day (my paraphrase).
What would a third day have done for Judas?
Judas never have lived to experience the third day, but he died experiencing the love of Jesus and the delivering power of Jesus. And yes… I do expect to see him in the age to come.
I am too like Judas – maybe this is why he is one of the 12. Maybe too much of Christianity has modelled itself on Judas. Hidden personal weaknesses, after all can we really be expected to be vulnerable? We accumulate knowledge that will help establish the kingdom; and if we do well, if we are those who believe for greatness then we can expect to gain a significant position as we help Jesus out.
But there is always a fresh opportunity.
Good-bye Judas… yet hoping one day I will say ‘Hello, and glad to meet you – I learnt a lot from you.’