Gospel of John, Holy Week

On Holy Wednesday

Jesus Judas and the Others
(Thinking about the texts for Holy Wednesday, particularly John 13:21-32.)

After saying this Jesus was troubled in spirit,
and declared, "Very truly, I tell you, one of you will betray me." The disciples
looked at one another, uncertain of whom he was speaking. One of his
disciples–the one whom Jesus loved–was reclining next to him;Simon Peter
therefore motioned to him to ask Jesus of whom he was speaking. So while
reclining next to Jesus, he asked him, "Lord, who is it?" Jesus answered, "It is
the one to whom I give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish."
So when he had dipped the piece of bread, he gave it to Judas son of Simon
Iscariot.
After he received the piece of bread, Satan entered into him. Jesus
said to him, "Do quickly what you are going to do." Now no one at the table knew
why he said this to him.

(John 13:21-28)

 
"The Devil made me do it." When I was a student in
an Episcopal girls' school, an older girl wrote a column for the school paper
called "The Devil Made Me Do It." I remember being a 7th grader and grappling
solemnly with the notion of a Devil who could make you do bad things. I thought
of cartoon images, in which an Angel version of Goofy and a Devil version of
Goofy sat on his shoulders, tempting him to do right or to do wrong. It's
perhaps a poor way to develop an understanding of evil, to base it on a cartoon,
but I think the basic principle was correct: the capacity to choose well or to
choose poorly lies within each of us.
 
Judas, though, trips up my theory. Is it the case
that someone had to betray Jesus? Was this his fore-ordained role to play? Did
Satan come into him and cause him to act this way? Although John's gospel would
have us believe it, the groundwork has already been laid for the idea that Judas
is out of sync with the rest of the disciples. He's the money-grubber, and as
anyone who has ever been in charge of the books for a family or an organization
knows, that's not the most glamorous job around. It requires attention to
details and sometimes a brusque truth-telling. The bookkeeper cannot afford to
rise above reality.
 
Judas fascinates, because like all the other
disciples he lived alongside Jesus for three years, and in the end found a way
to betray him to the authorities, going against all they had learned and shared
with others. He sold out Jesus and made a bad end himself.
 
I find it too easy an answer to say Satan entered
him, or any of us, but perhaps in this story it's true. Perhaps we needed to see
betrayal played out in such a terrible way in order to understand its magnitude.
Perhaps we can learn from Judas to be on the watch for the inclination to wrong
choices in our own lives. When we hurt another person, or hurt ourselves,
when we disappoint God, may we not let the Devil be an excuse.  May we own up to
what we have done or thought, make amends if we can and ask God's
forgiveness.

(Image from Vanderbilt Divinity School's New Revised Lectionary Website.)

4 thoughts on “On Holy Wednesday”

  1. i was thinking about this, this morning when i read the text for the day… wondering if in “that moment” judas’ heart became hard? did his eyes become dark and squinty? did he steel himself for what he knew he had to do? or was he pulled in gently… kind of sucked in… like he was still groggy from sleep, moving through the day, not fully aware of what he was doing… until later when his eyes were opened and the regret became painfully real…
    i think temptation works both ways. sometimes instantaneous almost and we steel ourselves to carry out a choice we know is wrong. and sometimes we are not fully awake, we get subtly and gently pulled along… but still, yes, the choice has painfully been ours to make.

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  2. My clergy coach and I did a preaching series this week (M, T, W) on characters of Holy Week, and he preached on Judas. He speculated that Judas a) was impatient and wanted to hurry up bringing in the kingdom, b) had a disordered personality, c) had lost his faith, and/or d) the Devil made him do it. Or all of those. My summary does not begin to do his homily justice, but it was very thought provoking.
    Perhaps when we lose touch with our better selves, we are opening ourselves up to “the Devil” in whatever guises he comes in.

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  3. what a fabulous piece of art. and what a timely and troubling question. i’ve always felt similarly about the accounts of pharoah and moses. did god really harden pharoah’s heart? if so, then did pharoah really have a fair shake? or do we discount that and say it’s just the ‘winners’ telling the story? i don’t know.

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