by Amy Carr
During Good Friday services, amid the readings from the gospel of Matthew interspersed with singing, I found myself thinking: for all our intimacy with the narrative of Jesus’ betrayal and crucifixion, we cannot know some crucial elements of the story.
It would be anachronistic to say that Jesus thought he was the Second Person of the Trinity, the pre-existent Word and Wisdom of God made flesh. The 20th century Catholic theologian, Karl Rahner, wrote perceptively about how we can understand Jesus as fully human, capable like us of growth in understanding. Jesus’ divinity did not deny his humanity.
I’ve noticed that Christians have a hard time really grasping that, in Jesus’ day, Jewish understandings of “Messiah” did not include the expectation of God appearing in the flesh. Jews were expecting a human messiah who would act with God’s authority (God’s anointing) to overthrow Roman rule of Jews. Jews with more apocalyptic expectations of the Messiah expected him also to inaugurate the Kingdom of God — the world as it appears when peace and righteousness reign in our lives together.
So Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, inaugurated a mysterious ritual that says at one level: I continue whenever you share this meal together. I am present with you when you eat this bread that is my body, this wine that is my blood.
But Jesus also told them they would all desert him.
He asked disciples to pray with him, and they kept nodding off to sleep.
Jesus felt alone. And this night it was not only because he drew apart often to hold the vision of God’s ways steady in his heart and mind. Tonight, his own followers could not journey with him. When they realized it, shortly before Judas arrived, “They did not know what to say to Jesus” (Mark 14:40).
Judas! What do you think motivated him to betray Jesus?
Perhaps the strange beauty of the story of Judas’ betrayal is that we can project onto him all our own imagined answers to this question.
Some of the possible answers may sound impious. Was Judas in love with Jesus, and troubled that the “beloved disciple” was Jesus’ favorite (John 13:23, 19:26, 20:2, 21:7)? Was Judas worried that Jesus’ movement was getting out of hand? Was he wanting “out” of what had initially seemed like an adventure, and so he offered to betray Jesus for money he could live on as he transitioned out of the movement? Was Judas disillusioned because Jesus wasn’t getting people ready to overthrow Roman rule of Jews? Did Judas have conversations with Jesus’ opponents that persuaded him that Jesus was blaspheming God by claiming to forgive sins in God’s name? Was Judas a spy planted among the disciples from the first?
What do you think?
Whatever the reason for Judas’ betrayal, Judas was not hardened in his opposition to Jesus. Once Judas realized that letting the priests know where Jesus was led not only to Jesus’ arrest, but to his crucifixion, Judas “felt remorse” (Matthew 27:3). He did not act like a contemporary extremist Christian who proudly kills a doctor providing abortions, secure in the rightness of his action. Instead of justifying himself, Judas returned the money to the priests and declared, “I have sinned! I have betrayed innocent blood!” (Matt. 27:4). He hung himself because he could not live with the consequences of his actions — whatever their cause.
So I am thinking tonight of the aloneness of Jesus and the aloneness of Judas.
Neither aloneness was a solitude — the kind that bears a plenitude of insight.
Jesus and Judas shared a kiss that drew them as far apart as we can imagine two human beings becoming.
Will the power in the “old rugged cross” cross over to bridge the loneliness between them?