In the gospels we heard on Monday and Tuesday of this week, in the background (but not too far in the background) has been the betrayal of Judas. St. John in the Gospel we heard on Monday identifies Judas “one of his disciples, and the one who would betray.” In Yesterday’s Gospel, John has Jesus predicting the betrayal by Judas. Today’s gospel from St. Matthew [read it here] the focus is more squarely on this most heinous of moments perpetrated by one of the most reviled figures of history. We’re at the Last Supper, which even before it was known as such and Jesus revealed the importance of that meal in ways they had never anticipated, it was already something important. Jesus and the disciples were gathering for Passover: a cherished family ritual, a sacred and essential Jewish tradition… that Jesus and his disciples gather for this demonstrates how this group had come to see this as an intimate family they were included into as being even more important than their earthly, biological families. As they eat, they roll up the bread and bitter herbs and dip it into dishes of the traditional sauce. Jesus, who shares the same dish with Judas Iscariot, announces that one of his closest friends at that table will betray him.
Judas Iscariot is usually portrayed as a dark and murky figure, one who represents evil and betrayal. We’re more comfortable in creating that image, making him just this villain in a familiar story – someone who is completely different from us. If he is that evil and that traitorous, we can move him to a different level and never have to consider relating to Judas, imagining ways we have betrayed Jesus in our own lives.
A friend of mine talked about a play that she saw which ran in New York a couple of years ago… It was called The Last Days of Judas Iscariot was loosely staged as a trial for Judas. In the course of the trial, witnesses were called and a case presented to a jury. But Judas was not portrayed as some caricature of evil we might like to imagine. He was a real, human being and his friend Jesus referred to him as “my heart.” Things went wrong and Judas made some disastrous decisions.
In a powerful moment at the end of the trial, at the end of the play, a desperate and furious Judas confronts Jesus, demanding to know where Jesus was when Judas himself needed saving. Judas screams wildly at Jesus, accusing him of healing and helping everyone else. Jesus even forgave Peter! Why didn’t he stop Judas from betraying Jesus? From hanging himself?
After he finishes his emotional speech, Judas turns inward, sitting in a deaf and blind silence. He has withdrawn from everyone and everything. In the last moments of the play, Judas is empty and despairing and unable to see anything – most especially, missing Jesus who is right in front of him. Judas can no longer feel the healing touch of his friend as Jesus silently and lovingly washes the feet of Judas, his beloved betrayer.
There are times all of us betray Jesus. We don’t have lives that are as honest as we want. We gossip and spread stories, stories telling ourselves that “won’t really hurt anyone.” We spend too many minutes in church evaluating why someone else is doing this or that. We refuse to forgive those who have wronged us, and we carry our un-forgiving anger like a badge of honor. We speak to our family members sharply and without the extra love and care that their role in our lives deserves.
Worse than his betrayal was Judas’ believing he could not be forgiven which leads to the ultimate of tragic endings. Not merely Judas’ suicide, but that he remains in history as the one who betrayed Jesus. Imagine had he believed – really believed. Christianity is full of stories where some of the greatest of Saints were at one time unbelievers, had rejected Christ – but after a conversion became the greatest of witnesses testifying in the most authentic and genuine of ways how Jesus Christ was who He said He was, accomplishes what He promises He would not just out there for someone else – but for them – for us.
As the season of Lent comes to an end and we enter the most sacred of days and sacred of moments with the triduum, may we not be as blind and deaf as Judas. All of us are forgiven, always. Jesus loves us with our full range of sins. We forget because we focus on ourselves and our sins, rather than on Jesus. We can get wrapped up in our own guilt and our own sense of the importance of our sins. And then we too can become blind to Jesus kneeling next to us, washing our feet and loving us from the deepest part of his heart.