Wednesday, 1 April 2015

Holy Week - Wednesday

Today's Eucharist Gospel readings in both the Roman (Matt 26:14-25) and Common Ecumenical (John 13:21-32) lectionaries speak about the role Judas plays in precipitating the succession of events that led to the death of Jesus. Introducing his account of the Last Supper, John says:

"The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas, son of Simon Iscariot to betray him." (John 13:3)

Matthew and John state that Judas makes his offer to the religious authorities to tell them where Jesus can be found before the meal takes place.

"Then one of the twelve, called Judas Iscariot, went unto the chief priests, And said [unto them], What will you give me, if deliver him to you? And they agreed to give him thirty pieces of silver. From that time he sought opportunity to betray him." (Matt 26:14-16)

Then, at the conclusion of the meal

"After he received the piece of bread Satan entered into him." (John 13:27)
First, the devil is described as motivating Judas to act, then Satan. Both words in Jewish tradition are used to refer to heaven's adversary, but there is a distinction between them. The devil is 'diabolos', a power or a person sowing division and chaos, un-doing the created order, if one thinks of God as the One who brings order from chaos at the beginning. Satan on the other hand, is originally a Persian juridical word, equivalent to prosecuting attorney - the Accuser - a more personal role, rather than the more general idea of a divider. 

Either way it's a hostile interpretation of the role of Judas that is reflected in the New Testament, but not in all ancient religious thought. Judas is considered by some Gnostic Christian writers as one without whom the work of divine redemption could not have been completed, that it was his destiny of necessity more than it was his choice. He is the one who triggers the inevitable course of action.

"So after receiving the piece of bread, he immediately went out. And it was night." (John 13:30)

Judas knows that Jesus and the disciples will go to the Garden of Gethsemane to relax and pray after the meal in the cooler night air. He will lead the religious authorities there. John perceives his actions throughout as evil and corrupt, he doesn't trust him, but it doesn't follow that John has interpreted his intentions aright.

"Jesus said to him: "Do quickly what you are going to do." (John 13:27b)

Had Judas told him a lie? Did Jesus know what he was considering? Did they discuss an initiative Judas was keen to pursue. His secret visit to the religious authorities might have been an effort to arrange a meeting with Jesus for them away from the public eye, where he could in private prove to them he was the Messiah. 

For someone ambitious enough to see himself as a deal-maker on behalf of the coming Messiah, Judas may have naively disregarded the ill-will towards Jesus,. The religious authorities took his lead as an opportunity to make an arrest. Judas' possibly well intended plan went terribly wrong. Then he was seized with suicidal remorse, and earned universal anger and condemnation for his perceived act of betrayal. His certainly can be described as a diabolical act, considering the way Jesus' arrest scatters the disciples into hiding. 

Judas greets and betrays Jesus with a kiss, perhaps thinking until this moment that things will now start to be different. He gets no opportunity to exercise any role in this situation. He is nothing like a 'Satan', has no part to play in the fake juridical proceedings which follow, not even as a witness. He has been duped, played by the religious authorities and discarded, totally underestimating the malice they have towards his master.

Scripture is silent on these matters. It just reports the reaction that everyone feels betrayed, regardless of the reason or process behind it. There is no doubt about the murderous ill-will of the religious authorities, threatened as they were by inability to consider the integrity of their own position.

Whether Jesus knew exactly what Judas intended or not, we can never know, but on the basis of the little Jesus is actually reported as saying, he didn't attempt to control him or persuade him to act in some other way. All of the disciples must learn from their own successes and failures. The tragedy of Judas is that he cannot reach out and seek forgiveness. He is the unmerciful judge and jury of his own catastrophic error, and his own executioner. All this adds to the burden of sadness that falls upon Jesus on his last most painful day among us.

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