(John 18:1 – 19:42)
This week someone asked me about Judas in the story of Jesus’ death. Is Judas a bad guy or was he a puppet required to make things happen as they were required? What place does Judas have in the story? He betrays and is cast out of the group and then either takes his own life or falls over a cliff and dies, depending on which account we read.
This question set me thinking. I could respond is a variety of ways. I thought about the range of answers I might have given over the years. At one point I might have said that he was plain bad, evil, greedy. At another time I may have said he was the one who pushed Jesus into the hands of those who had to kill Jesus because that was how the events were foreordained. Over the years there are points in which my answers would have been more black and white, definite and concise. As I contemplated my answer to this questions I realised that it is messy. Who was Judas? What motivated him? What did he actually do and was that different to either the various authors’ accounts or even what he thought he was doing? Was his role in the story as clear in actuality as it seems when we read?
At the same time I contemplated my response I also listened to the awful news of terrorist attacks in Brussels. Bombs in airport and railway, killing innocent people. It seems unsurprising these days but always awful and chilling. There are events across our world that continue the disturb and even strike fear into us. We feel helpless before the world’s ugliest moments of evil and hatred. We feel angry but overwhelmed because these events are so much bigger than we are and there is little if anything we can do. Perhaps world leaders may have some capacity to act but we are helpless.
When I held these kinds of events and questions together – terrorism and Jesus’ death – I felt the overwhelming helplessness of life in the world. I cannot contain or change these things. Sometimes I look at Jesus’ death through eyes that see the political context of it. When Rome crucified people it was for political reasons – treason or their own form of terrorism. Jesus was killed as a political prisoner because his way threatened the integrity of the Empire. Jesus’ death was also in response to the very threat hi way posed for the religious authorities of his time. His teaching, his life and his way of God challenged the structures and heart of Jewish faith in the 1st century. These kinds of explanations offer some insight for me into the world and the church. The powers and authorities of the world feel the threat of God’s way of love in the world. Think Martin Luther King jr (or Romero in El Salvador and many others) who champion the way of God which is love. The world rejects them and often has killed them. The church and other institutions in our society are often threatened by Jesus’ way because it challenges structures, power and welcomes vulnerability, community and love. People don’t always like this. I don’t always like this. It is hard to love people all the time. It is hard not to feel judgement or fear before some people. It is a courageous and profound thing to embrace other people and love them.
Judas entered my ponderings here. Judas is a confusing character who isn’t clearly defined within the various accounts. He has actions ascribed to him but what is his motivation and what did he actually do? Peter is another. He is described as having denied Jesus but what place do wither of these really have in the story? Did the authorities need Judas to betray Jesus? Surely he was known – they knew who they wanted to take down. They tried to trap him and he attacked them with his stories and words. So why Judas? Why Peter?
I’m not completely sure but they offer me a way into a story that is deeper than politics or religion. They offer me a way into a story that takes me into my own life and how I struggle with right and wrong, good and evil. There are moments when good seems bad or right seems wrong. There are times when a greater good seems to require a short term bad action to get there. Sometimes I feel like I’m in the ocean being thrown around in a wave, disoriented and lost in the puzzling context of questions and events of life and the world. Every time I think I have a grip on what is true and right something changes and I am again disoriented. The change may be slight but even that enough to change perspective. The events and experiences of my own life merge into the experience of the story of Jesus and lends interpretive movement to the journey.
As I get older the journey becomes more about mystery and wonder. I am happier to ponder the questions rather than demand black and white answers. So Judas lends me another way into the story and poses more questions that break the story of Jesus open to challenge, confront or inspire me. I can’t shut it off with the simplistic answers of yesteryear. Who was this man? Why did the writers write as they did? What was in the collective memory of the aural/oral society that spoke of Judas as they did? What did he think? In Jesus Christ Superstar there is an intriguing possibility that Judas was concerned that everything had escalated out of control and Jesus began to believe the rhetoric that others offered about him. Judas couldn’t see through his limited vision; he couldn’t believe but was fearful for Jesus. He was fearful of what this movement was building towards and where it would go. Everything was changing and he felt lost.
I get that because this is sometimes me. Change all around me and I am pushing more change, trying to build something within the small congregations of our Zone in the Hawkesbury. Sometimes the people around me and even within myself, there are questions and uncertainty and we want to stop because it seems to be moving too fast. Isn’t this the case, thought, for all of us?
Such pondering opens the stories to reveal more truth and light. In this profound story I continually encounter new wisdom and inspiration to engage in life at all levels. I gain inspiration to believe and to keep going even if it is against the flow of society because this is the way of Jesus. Over the last few weeks some of us through the Hawkesbury have been engaged with some studies around the theme of ‘When Loves Comes to Town’ (named after the U2 song). We pondered how when Love (God is love!) comes to town, breaks into our lives, new possibilities and life materialise. When Love comes to town we see the world differently, hopefully and are filled with the wonder and mystery of God. May this season give you moments of deep pondering and enlightenment.