Isn’t it interesting how Jesus’ worst betrayal came from within his most trusted group? But why on earth would Judas Iscariot do such a thing – this previously SO trusted disciple, he’d been their treasurer for goodness sake?It clearly can’t have been just for the money – those 30 pieces of silver[i] he received was only worth around $100-$500 by today’s standards. Besides, we’re told of how later he returned it all after Jesus’ arrest, and before tragically taking his own life. So why did he do it?
A key to understanding this may be associated with the word the NT uses to describe his betrayal paradidomaimeaning ‘handing over’. It is exactly the same word that Paul uses elsewhere to describe the faithful ‘handing over’ of the Christian tradition. You remember at the institution of Holy Communion where he says[ii]: ‘for as I received from the Lord that I passed on to you’.
Perhaps that was the whole problem with Judas – that he had his own agenda for following Jesus and that he allowed that agenda to dominate him. Perhaps it only becomes ‘betrayal’ once the purity of what`s being handed over gets sullied by our own self-serving agendas. There are many, including myself, that don’t believe Judas was such a bad guy – just that like so many of us, often, he was just misguided.
His name suggests that he was a Zealot[iii]. The Zealots were this politically aggressive group focused on the national and religious life of the Jewish people. They despised their Roman occupiers. They even despised their fellow Jews who they suspected were tolerating Rome in favour of nurturing peace. Initially, Christ would have delighted them and their sympathizers. Especially his early teachings seemed to fit so well their expectations of a coming long-awaited Messiah: …could this be the one who would at last lead them to victory over the Romans and restore God’s Kingdom to Israel? Jesus’ just would not go there. Instead, he spoke of non-violent love of enemies and turning the other cheek. He even spoke of how He had come not to dominate, but to die. That’s not what the Zealots wanted to hear.
We can imagine Judas totally believing that he knew what Jesus needed actually to be all about – but that Jesus was somehow either just missing the point or perhaps being a little slow in getting on with it! All he needed was just a little push, some provocation, something to set him off – and then he would act to do all that was expected of him: call down all the powers of heaven to smash their foreign oppressors and restore their freedom!
It seems to me that Judas represents exactly what happens when we allow our view of who and what Jesus Christ actually is to be confused with zeal for whatever our own personal agendas may be. I think the main lesson that we get from Judas is that what we may be wanting to get from following Christ may never take the place of a genuinely curious, open, wonder-full expectation of what Christ is actually, constantly revealing to us of god, of ourselves, of all creation – as we follow.
The sign on the back of my office door reminds me each time I pass that our following Christ is never to be so much about getting God to do our will as about us coming to discover and to be aligned with GOD’S WILL: NOTHING MORE, NOTHING LESS, NOTHING ELSE.
Anything else – anything less that we may ever teach or preach or believe or live in Jesus’ name is always going to be some form of betrayal…
But what, in Christ, then is God’s agenda? What is it that we are now being given to see with the 20/20 wisdom-vision filtering 2000 years of faithful, scholarly contemplation and insight? What are we receiving in order faithfully to be passing on? I believe the answer to that is both simple, clear, and yet devilishly obfuscated by our many complicated layers of self-preserving egoic demand and expectation!
The work of Jesus Christ is always to reveal God to us! Our following is intended to blow our minds wide open into knowing the sacred truth of all of what that means: God is ‘sacred presence’ everywhere and in all things… even as all things are within God[iv]. This is all God’s God-soaked, Christ-drenched creation!
Of course our hands are always too small to grasp that. As are our minds to explain it or our hearts to contain it… Thank God as we are given occasionally to glimpse this, it’s enough!
But still, for some reason, like Judas, we struggle to grasp that profoundly beautiful and radically inclusive truth. Instead, surely, we like to believe that it’s more complicated than that? Surely, there are still places where God is not. How about with the good guys and bad guys where we like to think that God is exclusively on the side of the good! Again, surely, like Judas, we need to decide for ourselves who is most deserving Can’t we just love them and be free to dismiss anything of God in everyone else?
How well would you say that mentality has been working out for us so far in the history of the world with all the damning contempt, bigotry and hatred that it breeds… Aren’t you just appalled at all these recent accounts of Anti-Asian prejudice and vitriol? Compare that to texts like John 3;16 which speaks about For God so loving NOT just the good guys, people like us, but THE KOSMOS– all of creation…
The second part of our reading sees the disciples getting down to business with the election of Judas’ successor. There was apparently a choice between one fellow, Joseph called Barsabbas (Justus), and another called Matthias. They pray. They cast lots. They elect Matthias. I don’t think I want us to focus too much on their decision-making process, only to stress that they had one. Those early disciples knew that they had a job to continue what Jesus had begun and commissioned them to develop and implement! They also knew that in order best to do that, they needed first to be organized – have a plan, with the first item needing to replace Judas.
All of this brings us to where we are today, as highly privileged Christians living in western Canada. We must come to understand our place within this Christ-infused, God-soaked creation. That’s our identity – our most primary identity. Then, just like those early disciples, we must re-own our purpose, which is to do whatever we can to help all of creation to come to see and to live into their awareness of that sacred wholeness.
That, as we begin slooooowly to emerge from this COVID pandemic, is our work both to discern, and then to do! It’s very practical work, it’s very beautiful work. But it’s tricky. Like Judas, we all have so much going on inside that if we are not on top of it we will try saddle Jesus with whatever small and partisan agendas we have – and so betray. Our world demands that we see everything cut and dried into a neat dualism, and then take sides! Then we convince ourselves that whatever side we have chosen is the only entirely correct one while the others are always entirely wrong. I mean, what are you: Conservative/ Liberal? Christian/ Non-Christian? Spiritual or unspiritual? Gay or straight? Settled or homeless? Rich or poor? In/ Out? Good/ Bad? Worthy/ Unworthy? …it’s all so desperately unhelpful!
Truly, Jesus does not take sides! Unless, of course it’s with whomever currently happens to be the underdog, the marginalized minority… Of course I’m not trying to say that we shouldn’t make a stand for what we believe, we must do so, and as firmly as possible, but my goodness, surely it’s just wrong to believe that there is no Christ still desperately weeping from deep within the soul of even tyrants like Adolf Hitler or Saddam Hussein or whomever else we choose to condemn as unredeemable. Christ everywhere is also even there, suffering within them, and just longing for us to care enough to do whatever we can to see him, love him, release him and so bring one another into that holy awareness…
Summing this up – as we move into discerning whatever awaits us in our post-Covid futures, we need: (1) to learn our lessons from the unhappy but – oh so familiar – example of Judas Iscariot. Identify what hidden self-focused agendas we may have lurking within us, driving us, allowing to distort our perspective of who and what Jesus Christ is actually all about. We are to identify them so we can move them to one side, making room for Christ’s infinite spaciousness and most profoundly inclusive grace. And then, (2) we are to be quite intentional about the next steps that we take to discern and lead both ourselves and our community towards God’s unfolding purposes…
What is the radically inclusive vision that God would have us/me embrace,
and how do we/I get to implement it?
How do we identify our own deeply unhelpful personal agendas –
identify them in order to let them go?
As a faith community how do we do structure/re-structure our lives
in order most faithfully to see/ be/ do what God intends for us?
God has such plans for exposing Christ’s presence and work in our lives and our world.
I confess that am just so full of curious anticipation as I look ahead,
can’t wait to discern these things with you,
In Jesus’ Name, Amen.
Rev. Robin Jacobson reserves all rights © 2021.
You are welcome to use, copy, edit or reproduce this sermon summary with copyright attached. Publication is prohibited.
[i] Matthew 26,27; Acts 1:17-20
[ii] 1 Corinthians 11:23-29
[iii] Extremists became known as sicarii (dagger men) because of how they carried hidden daggers to attack any who they believed were being too friendly to Rome. Some have pointed out that Judas’ family name ‘Iscariot’ is a form of that word sicarii.
[iv] This is not pantheistic-heresy that teaches everything is god, but panENtheism – teaching that everything is within God even as we believe that there is something of God within everything!