I find today’s story is one of the saddest in the Christian story. My heart aches for Judas. The Scriptures and tradition paint far too one-dimensionally for me. He is simply “betrayer”, and his humanity gets lost. In Matthew and Mark, he is “the betrayer”. In Luke, Satan enters into him. In John, he is darkness and has the devil in his heart. We too much remember him as the nearly inhuman figure who is important in moving the plot to Jesus’ death. His name has become synonymous with words like “traitor” and even “evil”. We need to recapture the humanity of Judas.
First of all, let’s remember his story. Within a whole host of people who chose not to follow Jesus, remember that at one point Judas did choose to leave everything behind and follow him. And he followed him faithfully. Up until this point, that is. When the woman anoints Jesus with oil from an alabaster jar (26:6) Matthew tells us that some of the disciples were upset because of the waste of expensive oil that could have been used to help the poor. In John’s Gospel, it’s Judas specifically who is upset by this, and history judges him negatively for it, but if I’m honest, I might have reacted the same way. Look at Judas’ heart there: It’s to be intentional and missional with resources. We could also argue that Judas is just being cheap and using “the poor” argument merely to defend his cheapness, but we don’t know. It’s possible that he was authentically upset about the waste. Judas was a disciple of Jesus, like you and me, trying to find his way through the hard call of following Jesus.
Second of all, it seems that when we read this story, we notice “betrayed” and “hanged himself” and “pieces of silver”, but do we notice the word “repent”? Judas repented. The form of the Greek word translated as “repent” there is defined, “to have regrets about something in the sense that one wishes it could be undone.” Have you ever done something which you regretted to the degree that you wished it could be undone? I know I have. Judas was a disciple of Jesus Christ and he repented. Unfortunately, his despair was too great and he could not imagine life going forward, so he took his own life.
It’s a truly tragic part of the story, one which we should not blow through, but about which we should enter into deep wondering. Judas has (as I said at Jesus’ arrest) “done the deed”, and the only vision for his future that he can imagine is one of “betrayal” and subsequently being a total an utter outcast. He can’t see the redemptive love of Christ that you and I can now see. Why do we continue to paint Judas in the image that he himself so tragically could not shake, but which we know to be not the whole truth of who he was?
God’s love and grace are always bigger than our actions. Redemption, restoration, and resurrection are always on the horizon. Judas couldn’t see it. Why can’t we see it for him? When we enter into those periods of utter despair, we need each other to see in us what we cannot see for ourselves. Let’s see it for Judas.
If the devil had entered his heart, I wonder if it was manifested not in as much what he did, but more so in what he thought of himself for having done it. When he looked in the mirror what Judas saw was what the scriptures label him as: “betrayer”. It was true. He did betray. But there was something about him which he couldn’t see, and which was even more true.
1 Corinthians 13:12 says, “For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known”. The mirror into which we often look is dim. And in it, we see things like “betrayer”, “sinner”, “unworthy”, “not good enough”, “dirty”, “weak”, “unholy”. But on the cross, the deceiving steam on the mirror is wiped away and we see ourselves as God sees us. God who fully knows us. It is there in the sacrificial love of the Christ on the cross that what is most true about us is revealed. And what is most true about us is not things like “betrayer”, “sinner”, “unworthy”, “not good enough”, “dirty”, “weak”, “unholy”. What is most true about us is that we are “forgiven”, “beloved”, “righteous”, “holy”, “free”, “alive”, “strong”, “enough”, “beautiful”, “risen with Christ”, and a whole host of other glorious words which God ascribes to us. If only Judas could’ve seen himself in this way. If only we could see him, and in so doing, all of humanity this way.