ANNOUNCEMENT: We interrupt our regularly scheduled hagiography for this important, but equally obscure church observance.
The Wednesday of Holy Week is, by long tradition, thought to be the day on which Judas crafted his agreement with the Temple Officials in Jerusalem to betray Jesus. It was, for a long time known as “Spy Wednesday”, but given it’s proximity to other weekdays with odd names (Maundy Thursday, Good Friday), most folks just call it “The Wednesday of Holy Week,” or, more directly, “Wednesday.” In any case, it definitely qualifies as a lesser observance of the church and is, therefore, right up our alley.
The character of Judas Iscariot (evil) and the results of his scheming (Jesus’ arrest) are so well known within Christian and broader Western culture that it is oftentimes difficult to read the story with a critical eye. Is there any way to make sense of Judas’ actions? Or is what he did the very definition of vile betrayal?
The Gospel writers all seem to agree that it is the later. They go to great efforts to explain that Judas was likely in league with the Devil, that he had a track record of stealing and that he likely kicked his dog. OK, that last one ins’t really in the Bible. But, you can certainly see where it would have been in his character.
Now, I don’t want to say that Judas got a bad rap. BUT, there is probably a more compassionate way to read this. A way that could possibly help us to see a shadow of our own brokenness and culpability in the whole thing. This is important, frankly, because it stops us from engaging one of our favorite coping methods: “the Devil made me/him do it,” – and forces us into a deeper and more reflective place. If Judas could have betrayed Jesus for believable reasons, then we could have done it, too. God knows it. We should probably own it.
A brief scan of the texts concerning Judas and his betrayal suggest that the most likely reason that he betrayed Jesus was that he found Jesus’ methods unbecoming of a potential national figure and threatening to the mission as Judas understood it. Causing a scene in the Temple, wasting money and cavorting with unseemly characters could have been major setbacks for a growing political, religious or social movement.
Judas was right. But he missed one key facet of what Jesus was up to. Jesus’ wasn’t a standard political, social or religious movement. It probably wasn’t a movement at all, at least not a movement in the traditional sense of the word. What Jesus was marshaling was not the movement OF a mass of people, and therefore vulnerable to potential scandal. Rather, he was conducting a movement of heart WITHIN a mass of people – the very people that he was offending, wasting money on and cavorting with. Jesus wasn’t setting the movement back, he was causing a stir – literally. Judas has every right to be angry. But, he had no clue what he was being angry about.
And here, I think, we see the clearest reflection of our own participation in the story and, simultaneously, the reason we need to try so hard to process it. How often do we rage against the seemingly misguided and ill-advised plans of God? His ways offend us, and we rail. We certainly have reason. But, do we have understanding?
For All the Saints will return next week. THANK YOU FOR YOUR PATIENCE