Magazine article U.S. Catholic

Traitors among Us: Is Judas Hated Because He Is a Failed Apostle or Because We See Ourselves in Him?

Magazine article U.S. Catholic

Traitors among Us: Is Judas Hated Because He Is a Failed Apostle or Because We See Ourselves in Him?

Article excerpt


I STOOD IN THE MIDDLE OF THE STREET AND WATCHED THE car pull away. The man of my dreams was at the wheel of that vehicle. He was driving away from me. Forever. It was a young woman's tragic soap opera moment, an hour when it seems perfectly appropriate to hurl yourself over the hood of the car, or perhaps under its tires. Why not be ground to bits, like my hopes and plans, like the future I thought had been guaranteed to me?

He was the man I wanted, the one I'd trusted with my heart, poured out over years of exchanged love letters. Not the kind of letters you can delete from your hard drive with a brutal highlight-and-key-punch, but the ones handwritten on specially chosen pastel paper, softly scented, and gathered into bundles tied with ribbons. I knew every loop of his flamboyant script, every languid, unruly hair in his brow, every shade of color in his moods. I thought I knew him--thought we both needed and wanted the same things and were holding on to the same inviolable goal: a life together.

As I stood in that lonely street and saw his taillights disappear over the horizon, I understood there were depths to the human soul that no onlooker can ever pierce, that no friend or lover or spouse may ever see.

Unless, of course, that friend is Jesus, who knows the secrets of the human heart. While human reversals stagger and blindside us much of the time, Jesus alone could spend three years with a small band of brothers and others and know precisely of what loyalty and villainy each was capable. Jesus alone could dip his bread into a common dish, night after night, knowing that one man seated at the table with him was putting his own traitorous touch into that same dish.

Judas enjoyed such intimacy with the friend he would eventually sell for cash that they ate together routinely, maybe even drinking from the same cup. It was a dark communion he shared with his Lord that fateful night. Yet even in that last hour, Judas was able to look Jesus in the eye and ask, benignly, "Surely it is not I, Rabbi?"

What made Judas do it? What turned a presumably once-invested disciple into the most notorious traitor in history? Was it really the silver, which John's gospel doesn't even mention? Was it disillusionment with the message or anger that the goal was too politically perilous or not political enough? Was it vanity, greed, boredom, a sincere but mistaken allegiance to another kind of Messiah? Is it possible to dismiss the motivation bluntly, as John's gospel does, blaming the whole thing on the devil?

As folks entirely capable of our own intimate and excruciating betrayals, the unclear motivation really rankles. We want to know if Judas was ever dedicated to Jesus at all, or if it was always mere sport to him. Did he follow Jesus while it was a novelty, and decide to part ways when it got costly? Did he once love Jesus and grow to hate him? Did Judas think he was smarter than his teacher, and was his pride injured that Jesus didn't see it his way? Was Judas a religious man who moved into fundamentalism, seeing this forgiveness of sinners and the breaking of Sabbath as increasingly offensive?

We'd like to identify the precise event in which Judas is sufficiently outraged or heartbroken to consider a departure: Was it a healing or a teaching that made the situation unbearable to hirer, Was it the decision to leave the successes in Galilee and head to Jerusalem--or not to take the city by storm and declare Jesus king of the Jews outright?

What we really want to know, maybe, is what it would take to spin our own hearts away from Jesus and toward betrayal. …

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