Thursday, April 02, 2015

Reflection for Compline - Wednesday of Holy Week

Almighty God, whose most dear Son went not up to joy but first he suffered loss, and entered not into glory before he was crucified, Mercifully grant that we, walking in the way of the cross, may find it none other than the way of life and peace, through Jesus Christ our Lord

So tonight we take another step on our Holy Week journey, and try once more to answer that question
Where are you in the story?” - but tonight I'm guessing that nobody much would happily identify with our protagonist.
Judas the traitor.
Judas, the man responsible for the saddest day of all.

Not a pair of sandals anyone is eager to try on...but I wonder...are we so very different from him?
What made him act as he did?
John suggests that he was motivated purely by greed. His gospel account encourages us to tut at Judas's money-grubbing ways
He said this not because he cared about the poor but because he was in charge of the common purse – and liked to help himself.” - and it seems clear that John has dismissed him as a man ruled entirely by his longing for money – for whom those thirty pieces of silver were a sufficient motivation in themselves.
He seems to want to turn him into almost a pantomime villain – someone whom it is easy to deride...someone with whom we would never identify, even for a second.

But – Judas has been among the 12 for months, spending time with Jesus, listening to his teaching, watching his healings...
Could he really have been there and remained untouched by the experience of walking beside God made man?

So – I wonder what really drove Judas to act.
It's surely a bit too easy to simply say “Satan entered into him”. Of course evil is a very real force in the world – and sometimes there seems no credible reason why an individual should choose to act in a particular and needlessly destructive way...but I don't think we can really simply place the blame on Satan. Most often, destructive patterns of behaviour come from within ourselves.

Perhaps the clue lies in his surname – Iscariot means “knife bearer”...Judas the revolutionary, Judas the freedom fighter – intent on freeing Israel from Roman rule...Judas throwing his lot in with the itinerant preacher from Nazareth because he seemed the most credible Messiah in generations...
Only – that Messiah refused to seize power
It had all looked so promising on Sunday, with that triumphal entry into the city as the crowds yelled “Hosanna – Save us now – Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord...Blessed is the son of David...the hope of his people”
Optimism filled the air
Now – NOW at last Jesus would surely prove his credentials – demonstrate to the whole of the known world just who he was and what he had come to accomplish.

But then – he didn't.
Instead of riding the wave of popularity – seizing the moment – he went to ground again.
Frustration – disillusionment- despair for Judas – who decided, perhaps, that it was up to him to force Jesus's hand...
Is that what was going on?
Did Judas hope, by bringing the soldiers to arrest Jesus, to push his Master into decisive action at last?
He wanted Jesus – but a Jesus on HIS terms...sharing HIS passions and concerns....stepping in to make things run according to HIS priorities.

And – oh my Lord – don't I do that too?
Don't I seek to shape you to my agenda, recruit you to my causes – rather than simply following your call?
I mean well – but so did Judas.
The freedom of his people was a cause worthy a champion...but that wasn't why Jesus came.

And Judas was so bound up in his own agenda that he ploughed on regardless – until it was too late – until the moment when he realised what he had done in handing over the true hope of Israel, the hope of the world, to be put to death.

There is so much darkness in his part of the story.
He went out – and it was night.
And, in the end – he hung himself.
Rock bottom despair.

And yet – and yet John has Jesus announce, even as Judas goes to meet the soldiers
Now the Son of man has been glorified” - for as the cross looms over our landscape, overshadowing everything for a time, it is in that moment of being handed over...of total abandonment that glory is revealed.
Though his actions are personally disastrous, they have their place in the drama of this week.
Just a week ago we celebrated the feast of the Annunciation – and I reflected that had Mary said “No” God would have found another way.
In the same way, had Judas not acted – someone else would have taken his place as the representative of human sin, of our inability to understand the way of love that Jesus shows us.
Judas was necessary.

And – there is hope, even for him.
There is an old tradition, part of the Orthodox teaching on the harrowing of hell, which offers comfort even at this moment of darkness
On Holy Saturday, when Jesus descends into the depths of hell, he is asked what brings him there, why the sinless one has trodden the route of fallen humanity
I am looking for my friend Judas” he replies – and finding him, kisses him.
So, as Ruth Etchell's puts it in her thoughtful poem The Judas Tree

It was for this I came” Christ said
and not to do you harm
my Father gave me twelve good men
and all of them I kept
though one betrayed and one denied
some fled and others slept
in three days’ time I must return
to make the others glad
but first I had to come to Hell
and share the death you had
my tree will grow in place of yours
its roots lie here as well
there is no final victory
without this soul from Hell”
So when we all condemned him
as of every traitor worst
remember that of all his men
Our Lord forgave him first

Judas failed...
He made the wrong choices...He put his own hopes and aspirations before the way of discipleship – but I am confident that the love, grace and forgiveness of God is enough to encompass even Judas the traitor – even you – even me.


Just as I am, poor, wretched, blind
Riches, sight, healing for the mind,
Yes – all I need in thee to find
O lamb of God, I come.

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