Wednesday, 6 March 2019

Following Judas

In most Christian tradition, Judas is seen as an archetypal baddie. In Dante’s ‘Inferno’, Judas occupies the innermost circle of hell. We have a long tradition of rejecting and condemning the man who handed Jesus over to the Jewish authorities. But, for a moment, let’s put all that cultural negativity to one side and remember that Judas was called by Jesus to be one of his disciples. He was then further called to be one of the twelve apostles. He was sent out to proclaim Jesus’ message and to heal those who were sick. He was there at the last supper; Jesus washed his feet, and shared broken bread with him. It was at this moment that Judas received his most challenging calling - Jesus leaned across the table, handed Judas a piece of bread and said to him, "Do quickly what you are going to do.” Judas was specifically called by Jesus to hand him over.
Because our minds are weighed down with assumptions of Judas’ guilt, we imagine Jesus’ instruction to have been deeply ironic. But irony wasn’t Jesus’ style. Also, if it was ironic, none of the others round that table noticed it. John reports, "No one at the table knew why Jesus said this to Judas. Some thought that Jesus was telling him to give something to the poor.”
The defence of Judas begins to gain ground when you realise that the word “betray”, which is applied to him 38 times, doesn’t actually mean “betray”. The word used by all four Gospel writers means “to hand over”. It is exactly the same word they use for Caiaphas handing Jesus over to Pilate, for Pilate handing Jesus over to be crucified, and for Jesus handing over his own spirit to death. In all the many times this word appears in the Bible, it is consistently translated as “hand over”, except when applied to Judas. Judas has been stitched up by the translators.
The narrative itself tells a different story. Jesus instructed Judas to do what he needed to do, knowing that Judas would guide the authorities to the Garden of Gethsemane. An hour or so later, Jesus knowingly led the rest of his disciples to that very spot, where he anxiously waited for Judas to arrive. Jesus had arranged with Judas for him to effect the first in a series of handovers, which would lead to Jesus’ death. That was God’s plan. Judas wasn’t betraying Jesus. Jesus was in on the plan. Judas was fulfilling the mission that Jesus had called him to.
There may be times, for any of us, when we are called by God into Judas’ company, when we are called by God to do something that will be misunderstood and condemned by others, but which is, nonetheless, fundamentally part of God’s plan. These are the toughest callings. Jeremiah discovered just how tough they can be. Are you ready to follow Judas?

Recently published:
the life and loves of a disciple of Jesus 
by Robert Harrison

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