The Episcopal Church of the Holy Innocents 

PALM SUNDAY 2017 …betrayal and Passion…

© 2014 Frank B Crumbaugh III
 

Judas is a baffling figure for any number of reasons, and the Gospels are not so consistently clear about him as we might think. All four Gospels name him as Jesus’ betrayer. Matthew and Mark have Judas actually kiss Jesus at His arrest, while Jesus deflects Judas before the kiss as Luke remembers it. There’s no kiss at all in John. More prosaic than artful, Matthew, Mark and Luke have Judas conspiring with the chief priests, while John more poetically describes Judas’ conspiracy as being with Satan alone. Mark and Luke recall the promise of money while Matthew alone actually describes the payment and its amount- 30 pieces of silver. Matthew alone reports Judas’ remorse and suicide.
[1] John 11:43-44  NRSV


​Treachery- the action of a traitor- is perhaps the most repugnant behavior human beings can describe. Using an established and assumed loyalty to disregard, harm and undo the object of that loyalty is so low that it surpasses even bloody murder in its repulsive quality. I believe the repulsion has to do with deviousness- other heinous acts have the possibility of some mitigating reason or circumstance, while the calculation required for treachery pushes even the most compassionate observer to revulsion and contempt. As ambivalent as I am about capital punishment[1], its use in answering treachery troubles me less than it does for any other crime- murder, rape and arson included. 

Treachery takes all forms. Writ small it is an adulterous affair. Writ large it uses an FAA pilot’s license to fly a jet into a New York skyscraper. It always involves the callous destruction of relationships and in many cases it involves actual loss of life.  Certainly, both describe the nature of Judas’ actions in the Gospel. 

Many have wondered why he did it, and there have been countless rationalizations of Judas’ actions. I am baffled by such attempts to soften the thoroughgoing contempt Judas so richly deserves. Judas’ actions were not accidental but intentional, and they were acts of commission not omission; there is no “Ooops” in Judas’ betrayal of Jesus- he meant to do it. I’ve heard the observation that without Judas, Jesus’ Passion might not have happened and the World might not therefore have been saved…implying that perhaps we ought to thank Judas for the part he played in salvation history. As weak-minded as that is, I have even heard Judas portrayed as a well-meaning publicist run amok- believing that by getting Jesus in front of the Sanhedrin and Pilate, He would have a larger audience. Such a notion redefines twisted logic.

It is true that God can redeem even Judas. I am absolutely certain that God must redeem my judgment of him, not because I’m wrong about Judas, but because, truth be told, I savor hating him. Hating him changes neither jot nor tittle[2] of the story, and my high dudgeon and righteous indignation contribute absolutely nothing of value. It is a very good thing indeed that as much as I wished He did, the Almighty does not consult me on such things. He knows better than that, and on my good days I do too.  

So what are we left with as we hear for the umpteenth time the part of the story where Judas sells His Master for the price of a slave? Well, Judas is the ultimate logical extension of Peter’s denial. Peter is not a stand-up guy when he needs to be, and Judas is a treacherous weasel. Peter leads to Judas, even though Judas’ betrayal happens before Peter’s denial as the story recalls it. Denial is the beginning of treachery. Denial is betraying one’s self before betraying anyone else; denial is knowing better and forgoing action, while treachery is knowing better and committing the bad act. Denial and treachery each have the same root. 

Give Judas the sneering contempt he deserves, but do so knowing that his treachery is closer upon us than we can admit. We know this because while we may have a hard time understanding Judas’ betrayal, we have intimations of it in our self-recognizing, thorough understanding of Peter’s denial. We are complicit in this tragedy insofar as there are no innocent bystanders at the foot of the Cross. Judas chose to be irredeemable. We too have a choice. Judas chose not to find a way back with Jesus; can you imagine if he’d expressed his remorse to Jesus instead of to those who paid him? 

Love you. See you in Church. 

FBC3+, 9 April 2017, being The Sunday of The Passion: Palm Sunday

 


[1] Yes, not because I am a priest and in spite of being a former police officer, I am ambivalent.

[2] Tyndale’s New Testament, 1526….first usage in English

[1] Heb  בית עניא  “”house of suffering”  a village on Mount Zion about 2 miles from Jerusalem

[2] In all probability the Horse gate or the Water gate.

[3] Respected, observant Jewish men taking their turn hearing small claims disputes

[4] Luke 22:51  NRSV

[5] John 11:53 NRSV

[6] Dead Man Walking. Gramercy Pictures, 1995