12 April 2006

Speak kindly of Judas

Wednesday of Holy Week 2006: Isa 50.4-9; Matthew 26.14-25
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
St Albert the Great Priory, Irving, TX

Hear it!
I will speak kindly of Judas. It is fashionable among the most fashionable to look at Judas and see a man too much maligned for his careful act of deceit and betrayal. Aren’t we being just a little too hard on the poor man? He was under a lot of stress! The agony of being the one of the Twelve who would betray his Master and friend must have been horrible to bear. The sweaty nights tossing in his bed, worrying about the small band’s money problems. The constant gnawing bite of ulcers, watching Jesus provoke the authorities. The pounding headaches from anxiety as his Master and friend claims, near-suicidally, in the middle of thronging crowds, that he is the Son of God! The insults, the arguments with the priests and scribes, even that day when the crowd starting throwing stones and they had to run for their lives! Too much, too much. You can see why he did what he did. All was lost anyway. Jesus’ end was inevitable.

Some suggest that Judas was predestined to hand Jesus over. Others will claim that Jesus asked Judas to betray him in order to fulfill the prophecies that prefigure his sacrifice on the cross. Still others will claim that Judas is an existential figure, a man persecuted by history for making a choice and playing out the consequences of that choice with a focused integrity. Maybe, maybe, maybe. What we know is that Judas went to the chief priests. Offered his friend’s freedom, his life, to those who would see him dead. Negotiated a price for his friend’s betrayal, thirty pieces of silver, the fine for murdering a slave. And then continued living, working, ministering with his friend, looking for an opportunity to hand him over.

But I said I would speak kindly of Judas. We all should. Why? Judas is so repugnant to us, so vile a man, and deserving of our contempt that, if we believe, truly believe, what Jesus died in order to teach us, we must find it in our hearts not only to forgive him his violence against Christ, but we must see clearly, staring back at us from the contorted face of the Messiah’s betrayer, our own face, creased with disobedience, etched with rebellion, scarred again and again with battles against killing temptation, the struggles to find, grasp, and cling to God.

If the Christ is the best face we could wear, turned to the Father in beatitude, then Judas is the face we could wear in those moments of despairing loneliness, dark, dark distress at the impossibilities of ever finding the light again. His is the face we put on when that small devilish whisper almost causally speaks ruin to us: “This cannot be forgiven. Not even God loves you that much.” What aren’t we capable of then? What act of betrayal, deceit, selfishness, or violence is beyond us when we believe we are unlovable?

Speak kindly of Judas not to excuse his sin, not to make right what is always wrong. But perhaps as an act of caution against what we hope is impossible for us. He is our anti-exemplar, the model of what happens in the ruin of despair, the wreck we make of ourselves when we kill tomorrow’s hope with yesterday’s hatred or today’s passing anxiety.

Sometime today, ask in prayer, “Surely, it is not I, Lord?” Wait for an answer and then, with whatever answer you receive, speak kindly of Judas.

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