Wednesday, April 4, 2012

On not being Judas

Carl Bloch, late 19th century

I've bee thinking a little about today's Gospel.  
You can find it here.

The Gospel of John does not let Judas off the hook.  In various ways, our other three Gospels show Judas as one who has fallen victim to some understandable kind of human weakness.  There are those thirty pieces of silver that he can give to the poor, or the motivation to stop Jesus’ derailing of the movement as Judas understood it.  Either way, while he does finally do the unforgivable, there is a sympathetic thread left dangling where Judas is concerned. 

Not so in John.  The gospeller John hands Judas completely over to Satan, the force of which enters him as he prepares to betray his friend.  There is not sympathy for Judas here, no way to redeem his action or understand his misunderstanding.  This Judas is not to be rehabilitated, this Judas is in league with the devil. 

The mood has changed quickly.  Jesus has just washed his friends’ feet, lovingly touched each one of these men and women who have followed him clumsily and faithfully.  Jesus has just introduced to them and to us the Lord’s Supper, his final meal which we remember in our own Eucharist. 

And then there is that one more piece of bread, that one dipped in the bowl.  And then, there is the presence of Satan in Judas.  And Judas goes out to do what he is to do, out on clean feet, a full belly and a dark and empty soul. 

Judas immediately goes out.  And it was night.

This detail in verse 30 about the night is easy to miss.  We could think of it as just a commentary on the state of the sky.  But remember, this is John we talking about there, John whose Gospel begins with  “What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” And “The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.”

The light/dark dichotomy was not just set dressing for John.  When John tells us that Judas goes out and it was night, John is reminding us of what happens when we leave the presence of God.  It is night.  It is dark.  We are lost. 

What Judas does when he leaves, turning to the night, is essentially what we Christians do every time we turn away from goodness, wholeness, holiness. 

There is Judas in each of us.  We each of us carry around a piece of the one who would rather take the easy road, to act on our tendencies toward gluttony, greed, self-indulgence.  We would rather give in to the powerful evil all around us than look for the strength to resist.  And when we do, we follow Judas into the night.

But we are better off than Judas.  We know what happens next, after the betrayal, after the trial, after the crucifixion and after the death.  We know that darkness doesn’t win. Judas didn’t get that chance. 

Being people of faith isn’t easy, but easy was never part of the promise.  It takes strength to turn away from the darkness.  And when we fail, it takes even more strength to ask forgiveness and come back into the light.  But we do, and we will.  Because unlike John’s bleak portrayal of Judas, we are redeemable, we are strong, we are loved.          

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