In Defense of Judas
By JANICE SIX
Matthew 27:3-5: “When Judas, his betrayer, saw that Jesus was condemned, he repented and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders. He said, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.” But they said, “What is that to us? See to it yourself.” Throwing down the pieces of silver in the temple, he departed; and he went and hanged himself.”
Judas: The disciple we love to hate. Personally, I have had concern for Judas Iscariot most of my adult life. Why is it that Judas is the only disciple who continues to be defined by the worst thing he ever did? Can you imagine being defined by the worst thing you’ve ever done? Judas wore the label “Betrayer” to his grave and because the writers of the New Testament reinforced his greatest fall, we continue to identify him in this way. It’s as if Judas was the only disciple to betray Jesus. What about Peter? No one saddled Peter with his most egregious act. We never read in scripture, “Peter the Denier.” And even though all the disciples deserted Jesus, no sign was hung around their necks reading, “A Cowardly Disciple of Jesus.”
So why is Judas singled out to bear the brunt of the shame that all the disciples must have experienced following Jesus’s death? I suspect it was as common then as it is today. When something horrible happens, many are obsessed with finding something or someone on which to pin the blame. Often this person becomes the scapegoat, designated to bear the sin and blame of the multitudes. Judas was the disciple’s scapegoat.
Paula Huston, author of Forgiveness—Following Jesus into Radical Love, describes shame as, “the stomach-dropping realization that we have let ourselves down before others—including God–in such a way that we may never recover our standing. We have been judged as seriously deficient, and we accept that judgment as true.” According to Huston, shame can truly be unbearable, and a person will do almost anything to avoid experiencing it.
Perhaps it was shame that compelled Judas to end his life. Perhaps it was the remorse and hopelessness he experienced when it became clear that the damage was done: Jesus would suffer and die a painful and humiliating death. Perhaps Judas knew that as long as he lived, the blood of Jesus would be on his hands. He would be the scapegoat, banished into the wilderness bearing the sins of all who were culpable in Jesus’ death. And so, in the fury of the night, consumed by despair, convinced that nothing short of death would serve as a means of escape from a life of shame and ridicule, Judas chose death.
How do you work through guilt and self-loathing? Are you quick to ask for and accept forgiveness, or do you continue berating yourself, reliving the offense, rehashing and ruminating over what if and what could have been? The shame of the action becomes the shame of self.
Most of us have something we wish we could go back and change–something in our past that has either brought us shame or hovers over us like an ominous storm cloud. Do you have sins of your past that keep pounding on the door of tomorrow, threatening to rob it of its beauty and potential? Be assured, God is so eager for us to experience forgiveness that just by entertaining the possibility of forgiving ourselves or others, God ‘s Spirit stirs within us, renewing our spirit with hope and healing.
If only Judas had known what Jesus already knew. If only Judas had known that on that night, Jesus already knew that he would betray him, Peter would deny him and all the disciples would desert him, and yet Jesus washed their feet anyway. If only Judas had known of grace.
The Rev. Dr. Janice Six is associate pastor of First Central Presbyterian Church (USA)