What can we possibly learn from this short, dark tale of Judas selling out Jesus? There is the danger that we become distracted trying to sort out why Judas would do this. How could someone so close to Jesus, someone who had seen and heard such incredible things, betray him?
But here the question Why? is less important than the question Who? We can’t pass by Luke’s identification of Judas as “one of the Twelve” without reflection. We know very well that Judas was one of the twelve disciples, so we tend to gloss over that phrase, but it’s important enough that Luke repeats it later in the chapter. Judas was “one of the Twelve.” He was one of Jesus’ closest companions. As followers of Jesus, we might have called him one of us.
Our tendency is to separate good from evil along lines of power and wealth. Even in this passage we may have already done this—the chief priests and the teachers of the law on the evil side, “the people,” who these leaders fear, on the good side. But I don’t know where to place Judas. We already know him as one of the villains of this story and we want to lump him in with the evil powers with whom he colludes. Yet in every other respect he appears to be one of “the people” living in subjection to the powers and, again, he is “one of the Twelve.”
Alexander Solzhenitsyn famously said, “the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being.” The distinction between the villains and the heroes, the oppressors and the victims, isn’t always so clear—it’s not something “out there” that we can identify; it’s something in each one of us that we must work out.
The real scandal of this story is not that Judas would betray Jesus. There were plenty of people who would have happily done so. The scandal is that Judas betrayed Jesus. The betrayal came from one who seemed to be so close to Jesus, someone who had seen and heard it all.
It unnerves me to think about it. Betrayal—selling out Jesus—is always within my reach, even as one who tries to follow Him closely. The Who? in this passage could very well be me.
Lord, have mercy. How have I betrayed you, Jesus?
Lenten Reader 2018
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