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Sympathy for Judas (1)

Updated: Dec 7, 2021

Every year it happens. We get to that point in the Easter season, when Judas comes under the spotlight. It shines hot and hatefully upon a man the church seems to despise. The church accuses Judas of betrayal; and yet, I have always seen him in a different light.

If Judas didn't hand over Jesus, what would have happened? Would some stranger have done the deed? Would Jesus have survived into old age; old enough to witness with his own eyes, the Romans tearing down the temple in Jerusalem, to stamp out yet another Jewish rebellion?

My Mum's "Lion Handbook to the Bible" lists 3 iterations of Judas/Jude/Thaddeus in the New Testament:

  1. Judas, son of James, one of the 12 apostles (Luke 6:16; aka Thaddeus in Matthew, Mark, Luke and Acts 1:13);

  2. Judas, brother of Jesus and James, who may have written the Letter of Jude (Matthew 13:55);

  3. Judas Iscariot, "who betrayed Jesus" (Matthew 10:4, 26:14, 27:3; John 13, 18).

So, who was Judas and was he Jesus' brother? The Gospels, Acts and Letters of the New Testament were all written many decades after Jesus' time. Commentators often say that the evangelists were not necessarily the actual authors to whom the gospels and other books of the Bible have been attributed, so who is to know the truth? And then, there were the translations and interpretations given to each; as well as the many texts omitted.

It goes back to something I say quite often here:

There's so much that we don't know!

My imagination says that Judas was maybe Jesus' brother, and if that's the case, Jesus probably called him Jude. I think that Judas, as Jesus' brother, knew all along what Jesus saw as his destiny. Maybe Judas needed convincing; maybe not.

Ultimately, he did what was required to set events in train. Whether or not Judas understood what would happen, I think he was compelled, caused, to hand Jesus over, like Simon Peter was compelled (caused) to deny knowing Jesus that fateful night. "You will just do it," he seems to say, "It is so."

Just as they followed Jesus at the start, they recognised Jesus' authority at the end too. Mark 1:17-18 says, Jesus said to them, "Come after me; I will make you fishers of men." they immediately abandoned their nets and became his followers."

Later, in Mark 1:20: He summoned them on the spot. They abandoned their father Zebedee ...

And then, Mark 1: 21-22: Shortly afterward they came to Capernaum, and on the sabbath he entered the synagogue and began to teach. The people were spellbound by his teaching because he taught with authority, and not like the scribes.

So, the point I'm making here is that Jesus spoke with authority and people recognised it. It was meaningful to them.

Jesus was born into a time of repression and oppression of the people of Judea, by the Roman Empire. Herod was an aggressive ruler and the Jewish leaders just wanted to keep the peace. When people came to Jerusalem for Passover (Pesah), they brought their local money and had it changed at the temple, so they could pay their "temple tax". Keeping the status quo would have been good for the Sanhedrin (which would have included the high priests, scribes and Pharisees, at least).

The Old Testament (in Isaiah, Malachi, and Exodus) referred to a messiah, and John the Baptist also prophesied the messiah's coming. But this was all in the context of Jewish exile and the subsequent Roman occupation. The Jews were hoping for a military leader, and when Jesus came along, they were partly disappointed and partly afraid. He had an obvious potential to become the leader of their dreams (because he quickly developed a large following), but he wasn't interested in taking up arms against the Romans and overthrowing them; not that the Romans knew that.

As I read through Mark's gospel, looking for clues, something pops out. In Chapter 2, Jesus heals a paralysed man, but his words have nothing to do with a physical inability to move (though the man has been lowered into Jesus' house in Capernaum through the roof, because his 4 carriers couldn't get through the crowds to see Jesus).

Instead of mentioning paralysis, Jesus says, "My son, your sins are forgiven." (Mark 2:5)

When the scribes nearby heard Jesus forgive the man's sins, they accused Jesus of blasphemy, because they believed that only God could forgive sins.

I imagine a world in which a person carried all their guilt until they had ritual purification, together with making a sacrifice and probably offering a temple tax. What a horrible world. I imagine not being able to say "I'm sorry" and hear that I'm forgiven by the person I've wronged, despite feeling remorse. I imagine not being forgiven despite making amends. And, I imagine not being able to forgive. What a burden!!

By telling the man that his sins were forgiven, Jesus did 3 things:

  1. Jesus set an example of a new teaching;

  2. Jesus freed the man (and all of us) from sin, guilt, and punishment;

  3. Jesus alluded to the connection between unforgiveness and being (feeling) paralysed.

Psychosomatic illness and injuries are real, and this story shows an example to all of us. The paralysed man, through his affliction, had "paid for his sins" (now I know where that expression came from - temple tax!). He had suffered enough. He deserved forgiveness.

The example to us all, hard as it might be, is that we need to learn to forgive even those who don't ask for it.

Big call.

Now, I actually wrote 57 pages in my journal about Judas, and I'd like to share my thoughts with you further. This bit about forgiveness is integral to understanding Judas, I think. But this is a good point to stop for now. Let's think about all the people who have wronged us in some way, and feel how it feels to forgive them. Let's think about all the people who've hurt someone we love, and feel how it feels to forgive those people too. We have all hurt someone (and it could be that we've hurt ourselves); so, let's feel how it feels to forgive ourselves.

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