Judas and Life Without Enemies
Posted April 5, 2022
Judas betrays Jesus, receives a reward in silver coins, and then, wracked with despair, ends his own life. We could easily write him off as a bad man, an enemy of God, a forsaken soul. Midrash abounds around Judas full of speculation about his motives, his sense of betrayal by Jesus, and the supposed “narrative necessity” of someone like Judas playing out the role of betrayer, as if God is governed by the necessities of story-telling.
My favorite theologian Karl Barth spends 45 small-type pages reflecting on Judas in his Church Dogmatics. Barth believes that ultimately there are no enemies in Christ. While God has permitted humans to make a limited range of choices, and those choices can include opposition to God, this does not mean that God is overpowered by our choices. Indeed, God can improvise with our opposition and redeem it for God’s good ends.
The image that helps me is of an eddy in a rushing stream. The main flow of water is God and my little human life is an eddy on the edge of the main current. I may spin in feeble circles of my own devising, but God’s movement is not slowed or redirected. Indeed, my little eddy is still fed by the flow of God’s life and my little eddy returns to God’s life when I am done rotating on my own wobbly axis.
Judas most certainly got painfully lost in his rebellion, betrayal and despair. As someone who has been lost myself I can connect to him with all of my sympathy. He represents, for me, the painful consequence of following my own agenda for God when I could be trusting God to set the agenda.
Probably the most poignant aspect of Judas, for me, is his suicide. He could not bear the pain of what he had done and he was not willing to approach the Cross to receive forgiveness, so he relieved his pain by taking his own life. At Sunday Bible Study, one participant invited us to imagine the scene of Judas approaching Jesus on the Cross. The tension of such an image causes me to pause even as I write. Yet, I believe that Jesus would forgive Judas in that moment of return.
Because, that is the whole Gospel. That is who Jesus is. The one in agony on the Cross, bearing the consequences of all the sin humankind has wielded against God, has the spiritual freedom to love, forgive, make community, lament and pray. The story of Judas properly returns us to the foot of the cross where we see the cost of rejecting God most clearly and experience the love that overcomes that rejection in the power of love.
Pray with Judas. Let him represent all that is in you that resists forgiveness. Is it pride? Is it a sense of unworthiness? Do you dread the feeling of pity? Go to God with those parts of yourself trusting that God will receive you even in your reluctance and give you grace to come fully home.
The Rev. Jarrett Kerbel
Tags: Biblical Studies / Lent + Holy Week at St. Martin's / Worship