Friday, May 17, 2013
Was Judas A Good Guy?
We celebrated the feast day of St. Matthias this past week. Matthias was the man chosen by the apostles to replace Judas. Some of the men at the local prayer breakfast joked that Matthias might have been worried at being picked to replace Judas. Perhaps he thought: “Good grief! I hope I’m not like him!” I opined that I wondered if the apostles, having been stung by a traitor and thief in their midst, might not have eyed Matthias (and indeed each other) a little more warily: “Could you give us a statement of Revenues and Expenses each month, Matthias --- audited by one of us? And in the future, could anyone who finds reason to visit the high priest in the middle of the night talk to Peter first --- we already had one betrayer in our midst, ha-ha.”
Maybe that’s how things happened after Judas’ betrayal and Jesus’ death and Resurrection. We’d like to picture the apostles as saints doing only saintly things, but we must remember that they were men. And we only have to look in the mirror to know how men are.
But what of the man, Judas? What kind of man was he, and what was he thinking? He betrayed Jesus for 30 pieces of silver --- greedy bastard, we think. But was that the whole story? Why did he do that?
Was Judas a bad guy? If he had kept the thirty pieces of silver, would he have joined Saul in leading the persecution of Christians? And what would people have thought of him then? Might he not have become a highly respected Jewish leader? Weren’t there other leaders who betrayed those who spoke against the state or against the temple leaders, and weren’t they rewarded for being such good citizens and Jews? Couldn’t you imagine Saul saying to the Jews: “You say you traveled with this Jesus and he was the Messiah, well, let’s hear from another man who traveled with him, and saw him up close for what he really was. Judas, come up to the podium and speak. Tell us, was he the Messiah?”
Judas undoubtedly thought he was looking out for himself, true, but he may also have thought he was looking out for the state. The Messiah was expected to lead the Jewish people, bringing to them power and riches --- a time of plenty. Judas could see he wasn’t going to get rich from this guy’s preaching, and many temple leaders did say he was committing blasphemy, so why not betray him. Wasn’t that a good thing to do?
Judas did what many people of that day thought they were supposed to do, to serve the state and church and make a good life for themselves. Tax collectors, kings and high priests, we may look at them as bad sinners today, but in their day they may not have been loved, but they were respected.
The word “love” began to have a new meaning in the New Testament, with Jesus. In the Old Testament, there were a dozen words for love with varying meanings, but in the New Testament the word “love” almost always meant a self-giving, “agape” love. In fact, the Greek word for erotic love, “eros”, is never used in the New Testament at all. If Judas confused love with respect, there were many Jews who followed the books of the Old Testament who might have thought likewise. And many of them thought of the commandments only as ways to ensure that they were personally closer to God. “I want to love/respect God, and I want God to love/respect ME, so I obey the law.” For the Jews, this was good and proper thinking. But Jesus came to change that way of thinking, and Judas didn’t get it --- and perhaps many of the apostles didn’t get it either, in that time prior to Pentecost. When Jesus voiced the two Great Commandments, love God and love neighbor, the scribe responded to him: “You are right, Teacher, … to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself, is much more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” And then “Jesus saw that he answered wisely.” It was a wise man, Jesus said, who recognized that the commandments were about love for others, and not to ensure love of self. This was new thinking.
Looking back throughout the Old Testament, what is the predominant thing we see? I think it is individuals wanting things better for themselves, and thinking they deserved it. Adam and Eve’s sin, Cain’s sin, well, you can go on and on. They are all about someone trying to get what they want. And then God intervenes and seems to tell the people that HE must come first, not them. And so they slowly come to accept that: Give God what He wants ---- so that He will give me what I want.
I wrote a post a while back on CD I listened to titled: Trust in God. It was a talk by a Fr. Thomas Richter. I perchance (?) saw it and listened to it again this week (I need to write myself a memo to listen to this talk more often; it’s very good). One of the things that caught my attention was when Fr. Richter talked about our relationship with God. Some people, he said, think they can grow in holiness by becoming self-reliant. The pray for something they want, get it, and then they don’t need God anymore. They think they are to do everything for themselves and, when necessary, ask God to help. (They appear not too different from the Jews.) They don’t get it, he said. Without God, they can do nothing for themselves. They don’t need to turn to God in their needs; they need to trust in God for everything, for a God who loves them as a Father wishes to give them everything.
Judas might have been respected as a good guy in Jesus’ day, by many if not most people. “Looking out for number one” was a virtue. Are things so different these days? So often in our country we hear Church leaders speaking of America and Europe being in a “post-Christian” era. Perhaps this would be better described as being a “pre-Christian” era. It appears that many of us believe the thinking of Judas is good thinking. It appears that we have forgotten, or perhaps we never really learned, the lesson of Christ.
He came to teach us to love; He came that we might have eternal life. And the one who “gets this,” he is a wise man. And he trusts in the Lord. Always.
And he is not anxious.