Betrayed: Maundy Thursday Sermon
No greater betrayal is depicted in the entire Bible than that of Judas Iscariot. This Maundy Thursday as we celebrate Jesus’ greatest commandment to love one another that he gave us in the Gospel of John, we are reminded that sometimes love is not reciprocated. Love requires risk and sometimes in love you get burned. No greater love can a man have than to lay down his life for his friends Jesus told us. No greater betrayal can a man have than handing Jesus over to be crucified for thirty pieces of silver. Today I want us to understand four things.
- Why Jesus chose Judas.
- Why Judas betrayed Jesus
- Did Judas Repent?
- What that means for us today.
First, why did Jesus chose Judas? This is perhaps the most confounding and disturbing question of all. In John 6:70 Jesus seems to express surprise when he says, “”Have I not chosen you, the Twelve? Yet one of you is a devil!” It is clear that at some point Jesus knew that Judas would betray him. But though he was God, the scriptures differ as to how much Jesus knew as a man. What we know is that Jesus prayed all night before choosing his disciples (Luke 6:12). He did not take the decision lightly. My guess is that Jesus chose Judas for a similar reason that we might chose to be in a friendship or a romantic relationship. Jesus saw something good in Judas. None of us enter relationships expecting to be betrayed. We have hope in people even though they are not perfect and we are not perfect. So how much more hope in Judas do you think Jesus, who was perfect had? Perhaps we will never know why Jesus chose Judas. But we know how Jesus treated Judas. He offered Judas the wine and the bread at the Lord’s supper. He washed Judas’ feet in the Gospel of John. We are told that he entrusted Judas with the common purse, all the disciples money, though the disciples learned in retrospect that Judas robbed the common purse (John 12:6). And as we learn in today’s passage, even when Judas betrayed him with a kiss Jesus still called him his friend. Now I believe Jesus had a sense of humor and could be ironic at times. But I think he was not trying to be ironic here. Jesus still considered Judas to be a friend till the very end.
Second, why did Judas betray Jesus? Again, we can’t be sure. The only personal note that we have about Judas is that he had issues with money and we are told that Judas received money for betraying Jesus. But we can’t be sure that greed was the primary factor. Judas’ last name might give us an indication. Scholars believe that Iscariot could be a derivation of a name of a region near Judea suggesting that Judas was from Judea while the rest of the disciples were from Galilee. So maybe there were some cultural issues coming out. Others have suggested that Iscariot could have been translated as “dagger man” suggesting that Judas could have been a Zealot, a sect that believed in military revolution. So when that revolution didn’t come perhaps Judas felt betrayed. But we are told that another of Jesus disciples Simon, not Simon Peter, was also a Zealot, and yet he did not conspire with Judas to hand Jesus over. Luke and John tell us that Satan himself entered Judas when he decided to betray Jesus. While I do believe demonic forces can influence and even control behavior for a time, I don’t think that it is generally the Biblical view that the Devil makes us do things though he may make it harder for us to come back from a dark path we are on. There is the theory that Judas was a divine patsy. That since it was part of God’s plan he bears no responsibility for it. In Matthew 26:24 Jesus affirms that his death has been prophesized but he declares, “woe to that man who betrays the Son of Man! It would be better for him if he had not been born.” Just because it was God’s plan doesn’t mean Judas lacked responsibility. My own view is that Jesus had to be betrayed or crucified somehow. But Judas didn’t have to be the one to do it.
What is clear is that there was something amiss with Judas’ character. Dr. Henry Townsend, in his book Beyond Boundaries, argues that there are two types of trust, functional and relational. In functional trust we trust someone because what they do generally matches with what they say. In relational trust we trust someone because we feel safe with them, we can be vulnerable, when we show weakness we are welcomed and not shunned by them (Townsend, 250). It seems that functionally Judas appeared trustworthy elsewise the disciples would have not trusted him with the common purse. But in the same passage in John where we are told that Judas was in charge of the common purse we are also told Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus, came to Jesus with expensive ointment and anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped his feet with her hair. Mary is very, very, vulnerable right here. She is putting herself out there, she is pouring out her love and her wealth upon Jesus. And what does Judas have to say? The ointment is worth 300 denarri and could be better spent on the poor, Judas announces. While this may be technically true in the context it is very insensitive and certainly would have shamed Mary if Jesus had not affirmed what she did. This comment by Judas is likely due to a character flaw. As Townsend argues character is the ability to meet the demands of reality. When the going gets tough, all of us, given the right circumstances, might tend to buckle under certain pressures. It doesn’t make us monsters though we may certainly do monstrous things but such essential flaws will cause problems in our lives if we don’t address them. Townsend lists several character problems. Judas certainly had problems with deception, perhaps he also had a victim mentality and was somewhat self absorbed.
Third, did Judas repent? Again, in our passage today says that Judas was guilt ridden, but it does not use the Greek word for repentance. Townsend makes a distinction between guilt and remorse. Guilt is full of self condemnation. Remorse is full of genuine concern for the person we have hurt. Paul affirms this in 2 Cor 7:10 where he talks about worldly grief that leads to death and godly grief that leads to repentance and life. Townsend argues that we need to confess our sin, we need to own our sin, and we need to be remorseful of our sin to be transformed, to repent (Townsend, 195). If we look at our passage today Judas certainly confessed his sin, but he had trouble owning his sin, and he felt more guilt than remorse. Notice Judas declares, “I have shed innocent blood”. He is talking in abstract terms, he cannot say Jesus’ name. His confession is also completely self focused. I don’t think suicide is the unforgivable sin in every case. But in this case, the scriptures tell us, that Judas did not repent, he could not face what he had done, and the scriptures are clear, there was no hope for Judas after he died.
Finally, what are we to take away from Judas’ story? Well I think our texts today provide us some good news and some bad news about God (bad news at least from our perspective anyway). The good news is that God is faithful and he is Love and he loves us. As 1 Corinthians 13 says, “love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” Jesus saw the best in Judas and he was his friend till the end. That should give us hope that no matter what we have done God is not done with us yet. And yet, the scriptures also say that it would have been better for the one who betrayed Jesus not to have been born. God is faithful but he is also just. There can be Resurrection in our relationships may that relationship be with God or a human being. But Resurrection is not guaranteed. We’ve talked a lot about Judas but let us not forget about Peter. Their betrayals were both great. But one felt guilty while the other repented. God requires repentance not guilt. So let us make sure we know the difference tonight.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.