I was studying the opening chapter of Acts today. I’ve always had a hard time with the book. The stories don’t capture me in the same way as the gospels. But I’ve made this commitment to sit with the text until it stirs my imagination. So I sat there being bored until I got curious about Judas. I started wondering how the disciples must have felt about Judas. I don’t hear much discussion of Judus in the church. He’s usually cast aside as a two-dimensional character. But that interpretation isn’t satisfying. Judas was one of the twelve. Jesus stayed up all night discerning who to focus on and commit to for three years, and Judas made the cut. He was personally mentored by the living incarnate God for three years. He was sent out on multiple missionary journeys. He cast out demons, he healed the sick, he preached the gospel. He received almost the exact same training as Peter. He had an intimate relationship with Jesus, sharing life on a day-to-day basis. So how can we dismiss him in such a perfunctory manner?
How did the discples feel about Judas? They must have been friends. They must have grown to close. It’s always presented as if their feelings towards Judas were clearcut- he betrayed Jesus so we hate him. But it seems like their feelings about Judas would have been complicated. He is in every memory that they have of learning and growing with Jesus. He wasn’t pure evil incarnate all the time. He was just like them. So much so, that up until the night that he actually betrayed Jesus, he didn’t stand out as very different from the group.
When I first considered writing about this, I started from the perspective of Peter. What do you do when you’re leading a team and you lose a member ? What do you do when there is betrayal in a community? But I had to ask myself , why am I assuming that I’m Peter when I read a story. Why aren’t I Judas. Why do I always identify with the positive example? This really got me thinking. Why does everyone think they are Peter, and nobody thinks that they are Judas, because the difference between the two men doesn’t seem very clear to me. They both seem passionate. They were both committed to Jesus. Jesus saw something in Judas that made him worth making one of the twelve. I honestly don’t know if, when Jesus appointed to 12, He knew that Judas would betray Him. It’s easy to assume that he did in retrospect, but it seems like an awful waste of leadership development to spent three years with somebody, if they’re only purpose is to betray you in the end. That keeps our view of Judas two dimensional and I’m not satisfied with that anymore.
I’ve heard many sermons where the preacher has identified with Peter. Often in self deprecating ways- “I’m loud and opinionated- like Peter!” or “We are all tempted to deny Jesus- like Peter.” But still, they are identifying with the man that became the head of the church. So it’s a bit of a humble brag.
Lets have the courage to see ourselves in Judas. Especially those of us who would call ourselves “committed Christians.” Judas was a committed disciple of Jesus. Judas changed his whole life around so that he could be one of Jesus’ disciples. When Peter says “We have left everything to follow you.” Judas is included in that well. He paid costs in order to follow Jesus. You can’t fake commitment like that for three years.
Judas is challenging to me personally, because many believe that he was a Zealot. His surname, Iscariot, translates to Dagger. Such men carried daggers at all times, prepared to take action in pursuit of their desire to see Rome overthrown. Judas was political, he was an activist, he was passionate about his cause. All of this catches my attention because I am an activist and I long to see systemic transformation in my own country. So in that way, I am like Judas.
Judas must have been trustworthy because he was given charge of the money box. So he appeared responsible and integrous to his peer group. Perhaps this was a point of pride for him, he had a responsibility that the other men did not. But at some point he began to steal from the money box. So Judas is somebody who appears trustworthy and responsible and is entrusted with tasks by his peers, but has some hidden character flaws. In that way, I am like Judas
In addition, I’m not sure how his betrayal is worse than Peter’s betrayal. Both Peter and Judas betray their relationship with Jesus in his greatest moment of need. Both men regret it later. Peter is ashamed and afraid to be associated with Jesus and not once, but three times, he denies even knowing Jesus. Judas is no longer in agreement with Jesus’ picture of the Kingdom of God, so he sells him out. The consequences of his actions are greater, but is the content of his heart so different than Peters? I don’t have a good answer to this question, but I feel challenged by the presence of Judas and I don’t want to dismiss him is a two-dimensional character that can’t teach me anything. He is a humbling and challenging silent figure in almost every gospel story.
My reflection this morning made me feel like I need to be more deliberate about learning from the “bad guys” of scripture. Maybe I need to think more about how I’m like Herod instead of assuming I’m like John the Baptist. Maybe I need to see how I’m like Saul instead of pretending that I’m like David. Maybe I need the humility to see how I’m like Pilate instead of Joseph of Arimathea.
My take away from this morning is that I need to have the humility to see myself in every character in the Bible. I need to have the courage to see myself in the crowd that asked Jesus to leave after he cast the demons out of the demoniac. I need to have the humility to see myself in the crowd that wants to throw Jesus off the cliff in Luke four. I need to see myself in the crowd that wanted to throw stones at the woman caught in adultery. I need to see myself in the people that try to silence Bartimaeus as he cries out for Jesus to have mercy on him. I’m well trained in gleaning leadership lessons from Peter and Paul and trying to model myself after Jesus. Maybe I’ve been too proud to truly see myself in all the other characters in the Bible. And I think that is limiting my growth and my learning.