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Was Judas just misunderstood?


"Judas saves the day! The Galilean Gazette has exclusive coverage of how this former disciple of John the Baptiser averted tragedy for Jesus of Nazareth on a recent trip to Jerusalem”."

It doesn’t sound quite right, does it? As the archetypal betrayer, Judas is the one we love to hate, and we don’t go into it too much. He’s the slightly two-dimensional necessary bad-guy who we allow to move the plot along in the story of Jesus’ death. Most of the nuance about betrayal in Christian reflection at Easter tends, in fact, to come from Peter’s denial, and the ominous rooster crow that jolts him into the realisation that he has acted first to protect himself.

But a mislaid intention to save the day is exactly the defence that Jeffrey Archer and Francis Moloney SDB attribute to Judas in their recent (fiction) The Gospel According to Judas. There’s an indignant logic to the defence – Judas had done the maths, and had realised Jesus was in big trouble. Along the road to Jerusalem he worked out that this guy was not the Son of God, and charmingly naïve though Jesus of Nazareth might be, these people were going to kill him.

So (and not without an element of his own grandiosity as I imagine it), Judas starts talking to the right people, setting up some alliances, and working out a way to get Jesus out before he gets hurt. But alas, Judas the tragic hero was betrayed on both sides, exploited and misled by the religious leaders with whom he colluded, and misunderstood by the disciples.

Whether we take up the book itself, or decide that the question of Judas Iscariot and his motives are best left to dinner tables and musings over late night drinks, the extra depth to Judas which Archer and Moloney toy with reignites the question of Judas’ mistake. The hypothetical adds depth to this concept of betrayal, of sin. We have been encouraged to identify with Peter and his denial, but have seen ourselves as above the base seduction of Judas’ 30 pieces of silver?

At some point within the protestations about well-meaning innocence in this playful Judas, we hear a charge we cannot so easily dismiss. And the question emerges – is the well-meaning but mistaken character, the character whose main pitfall is a lack of faith, more dangerous than those of malevolent intent?

It’s so domestic isn’t it? It’s so dull really, and yet compellingly familiar. The great archetypal betrayer got in the way of what God was doing because by his calculations it was all about to go belly-up. It’s no wonder really that this betrayal came from the inner circle. From someone who at one level seemed to share the same vision, or at the very least clearly thought they did, but who missed the point because they didn’t have the same heart.

And if we’re talking about this kind of betrayer, then we still seem to have it within all of us and within our churches – because there is a serious part of us that is trying to do the maths to fix the disaster that seems imminent. I can fully understand the instinct to troubleshoot on the road to Jerusalem, because if I do the maths I can see that there are problems. And if I think that there’s something genuinely transformative about Christian faith, something that can really make a difference to the world, and the individual lives that make it up, then there’s a virtuous part of me that worries that the vehicle for making that faith known seems somehow on the way out; the church like a great emaciated skeleton, a shadow of its former self.

But where would you rather be? Off colluding with the strategists, working out a way to get Jesus out of the line of fire, or walking the tricky unknown road to Jerusalem with him, assuming that the one who binds the broken-hearted, and brings good news to the poor, may yet just have something further up his sleeve?

What Archer and Moloney remind us of, in fact, is that there is no foolproof, catch-all rule for faithful discernment. There is no way of avoiding the steady responsibility for making good choices, for checking our motivations. And at some point it might just involve scrunching up some faith (mustard seed-sized though it may be) – and daring to keep on finding our way along the road, trusting that God is at work and eager to match our searching for a better world.



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Existing comments

"Rats leave a sinking ship." This did not happen to the disciples - with the exception of Judas - until the crucifixion after which Jesus resuscitated their faith. I think that I would have stuck with the group. John Carroll's unbiased analysis of the Jesus-Judas conflict in "The Existential Jesus" I find plausible.

Annette Dooley | 21 June 2007  

The songs of Second Isaiah are the songs given to and emanating from of a race or a people who are without greatness, a people punished, a people without home, without status and without confidence in the future and into these the Spirit breathes hope and encouragement to return to their ancestors’ land and start again. But it was precisely the inferiority of the people that led them to hope for the God of benevolence and beneficence to again take them to God’s heart as God’s chosen people. The solutions of people with loaded bank accounts and prestige are solutions based on prudent planning and undertaken with resources that only their bloated coffers can provide; in the days of the Kingdom of Judah, these people were the Judahites; in today’s generation, these are the people of the West. We choose our behaviour and our solutions.

Gerard McDonnell | 21 June 2007  

I feel a bit sorry for Judas. He was in the wrong place at the wrong time. But he did wrong!

Theo Dopheide | 21 June 2007  

If Judas had not given him over, then prophecy would have FAILED. I wonder what would happen if Satan's Son (the Beast) decides not to overthrow the World? Does that mean that the Messiah will never return to cleanse the Earth?

If the Beast reads this comment then he might get an idea to sit back forever, now would that anger God. lol

John Murie | 30 May 2008  

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