“But I can’t think for you. You’ll have to decide whether Judas Iscariot had God on his side.”-Bob Dylan
Who do you call your friends?
Recently, I was reading through the Gospel of Matthew and was surprised by what I found: “And Jesus said to him (Judas), ‘Friend, do what you have come for.’ Then they came and laid hands on Jesus and seized Him (Matthew 26:50).”
When I was growing up, we always saw Judas as a shady character, with the movies mirroring our interpretation with Judas as a distant and ominous character, already knowing he would betray Christ from the start. Over the years, my thoughts on Judas have begun to change. The primary reason being his motivation for turning Jesus over to the religious leaders in Jerusalem! For many of Jesus’ followers, Jesus was surely the coming Jewish revolutionary who would liberate the Jewish people from the Roman occupation. This may be surprising, but how else do you explain the mass acceptance of Jesus as “leader” on Palm Sunday and then mass rejection by those same people once stirred up by the religious leaders not even 5 days after this grand reception. Judas believed in a revolution that would liberate the Jews from Rome, but when the guy you have believed in to do this finally makes Himself clear as not being the very leader you would have hoped him to be, you turn him over to instigate the very revolution you wanted in the first place.
All of the disciples had their own agenda for what Jesus would do, but this is what was and is still hard about following a guy like Jesus: He refuses to do what you expect or demand He do. Whether you are James and John who want to sit at His right hand (Mark 10:37), or your Peter who objects to Jesus toying with this idea of laying down his life for the sake of the Kingdom (Matthew 16:22) or Judas who gives up Jesus in order to accelerate the revolution. We all want justice and the right thing to be done by us and for others, but that is not how we extend this Kingdom to the world. We don’t even extend this Kingdom by being betrayed, beaten, cursed, or spit upon. We extend the Kingdom by forgiving those who do all of those things to us, yes even crucifying us (Luke 23:34).
What I find striking is that one word Jesus ascribes to Judas: friend. He does not mean acquaintance, but literally “partner” in ministry. Even in the midst of a violent betrayal, Jesus does not recognize that Judas is His enemy. Jesus has every reason to discard Judas as a person He has given up on, but instead He simply looks at Judas and calls him “friend.” Are we about this kind of life? We have all experienced betrayal and thought to ourselves: “Never again.” How hard is it to not consider the obvious and instead reject the victim mentality of the other who wants me to be the victim. Judas was not a purely evil person, for even he tried to make restitution, but chose to believe the lies spoken to him by the Pharisees, and he killed himself. Consider one of the saddest parts of the story: “When Judas, who had betrayed him, saw that Jesus was condemned, he was seized with remorse and returned the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders. ‘I have sinned,’ he said, ‘for I have betrayed innocent blood.’ ‘What is that to us?’ they replied. ‘That’s your responsibility’ (Matthew 27:3-4).”
This is also reflected in Paul when in the midst of being accused of a number of wild accusations, he declares that he is not aware of any judgments against him (1 Corinthians 4:4).
Doesn’t he understand how many people are viciously putting him down to the very one’s he saw come into the Kingdom?
Isn’t he aware of the problems this is causing in the church?
Isn’t he familiar with the harm this backbiting is causing his name amongst the very communities he has founded?
Of course he is, but even Paul knew this one simple truth demonstrated by Jesus on the day of His crucifixion: I am not a victim, but I simply lay down my life freely for the sake of others (John 10:18). Jesus is not a victim, rather, He stands in solidarity of the victim and forgives the oppressor.
If you are in Christ, you are free. Not bound to anyone else’s conscience besides your own. You choose to become the identity others want to accuse you of being. You choose to forgive in the midst of horrific injustice. You choose to bring change, even if that person does complete wrong by you, because it is not about you anyway.
Judas had walked closely with Jesus for three years. Do you think Jesus was legitimately hurt, or did He simply shrug it off and say, “Well, he was predestined to betray me, so that’s that!”? No, Jesus was hurt and betrayed by one of his closest friends, and instead of coming in agreement with his betrayer by defending Himself, Jesus simply called him “friend.” Why? He had no enemies and neither do we. Are you laying your life down freely or not going without a fight? I think Jesus is asking all of us this question: do you love me? Because there is nothing you could do that could change that, just receive my forgiveness. So may you be filled with dignity and never despair. You are free!