Luke 6: 12-25
*The aftermath of Easter is a time to look forward but to give a backward look as well. The resurrection gives an eternal dimension to Jesus’ mission. In the Luke reading there is an early impression of the tragic figure of Judas. Even there in those seminal days, the twelfth disciple is described as the disciple who ‘became’ a traitor. Judas knew what he was about.
He was resolute in the way the other confused disciples may not have been; decisive but, as he came to realise, making the wrong decision. What drew him to that position?
. It may be significant that he is the only one of the group close to Jesus who was not a Galilean. Judas and his father Simon were both apparently from Kerioth, their surname “Iscariot” is from the Hebrew
(pronounced) Ish Kerioth, meaning “a man of Kerioth.”, which was a town in the south of Judea
, about 10 miles south of Hebron
Culturally Judeans despised their northern neighbors as country cousins, their lack of Jewish sophistication made worse by their greater openness to Greek influence and the fact that they didn’t take the observance of the proper Jewish rituals seriously enough. Galileans spoke a distinctive form of Aramaic with slovenly consonants (they dropped their aitches), and Judeans found this funny.
Did Judas feel excluded? There was a common culture amongst the other disciples – Jesus too – from which perhaps he felt alienated. He couldn’t easily share the same jokes, the references to people everyone else knew, the special character of the villages and towns they visited. And perhaps – this is all ‘perhaps’ – the sense of being out of things festered in his mind like a boil waiting to burst.
Perhaps too his special responsibility amongst this troop of traveling beggars, to hold the purse, kept him a little apart. Treasurers may be respected but may not always be loved.
Excluding someone from the commonwealth of life can be an ugly mark in any community, neighborhood, town, and nation; church as well. Too many people have come into the church and then left it because, busy looking after itself, the local church had lost the art of making new friends. The great debate about immigrants – well, hardly a debate when there is so much noise and so little reason – is about reserving the status quo and resisting change. Too many people in our country are separated from the whole life of the nation – poor people, disabled people, ethnically distinct people, homosexual people, and elderly people – because they are ‘different’. It is harmful to them but it harms us all. The Church has to learn this truth as much as anyone else – difference is not the enemy of real unity but can be its enrichment.
2. Dreams. People come into faith or join a political party or campaign for a cause because they dream about change. It is a very hard thing for anyone with a vision to hold on to in the face of disappointment. Needing someone to believe in, it’s possible that’s how it was for Judas : Jesus was the hero he had been looking for. Heroes are strong and successful and Jesus – it became clear – was strong only as a servant is strong, and successful only is so far as he was able to introduce people to a new understanding of God.
But the man Judas was looking for had to be a messiah who would make Judea powerful again. He was one of twelve and he must have thought, the number stood for the twelve tribes of Israel and the renewal of the kingdom. Reasonable enough supposition new testament scholars say. However he was wrong and instead of accepting his error and learning a new way, he was bitterly resentful. Some say his betrayal was an attempt to force Jesus’ hand. I think it unlikely. He dealt with his failed dream by colluding in the destruction of Jesus and of the whole enterprise of which he had been part.
How do you deal with your dreams when they have failed to materialise? We are part of a Christian community in this country whose dreams of the triumph of the gospel have failed, and part of a nation where wealth is glorified and poverty is despised. Our dreams of growth and influence have become mere wishful thinking. So who’s to blame?
The odd claim of a one-time Archbishop of Canterbury, George Carey, in the Daily Mail (the Daily Mail!) at Easter (Easter!) that Christians are a persecuted minority in the U.K. – and the Prime Minister is partly to blame for it, has been received with approval in some quarters but alarm or contempt in others. The ‘aggressive secular culture’ he referred to is hardly one person’s fault. It certainly exists and is corrosive to the good of national life, but there are multiple reasons for it, one of which is the Church’s failure to communicate its values and beliefs and its subsequent retreat into itself. We have to take our place in the market place and in the culture we are part of with all its considerable faults; and not to ask for favours.
3.Greed. And then there’s the money. Perhaps Judas had his hand in the till. John 12:6 plainly says that Judas had the reputation of being a thief – ‘he kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it’. Matthew 26:15 – ‘what will you give me if I deliver him up to you?’ That may be a bit of an editorial embellishment, but the temptation was there and covetousness may have been a motive – to sell Jesus for the price of a slave. Was it so strong a motive for Judas that he surrendered everything – friendship. loyalty, comradeship –for those thirty pieces of silver? It’s easy to condemn him for what seems a love of money, and yet most of us would like to be wealthier than we are, but not at the cost of betraying our values and failing to appreciate the many advantages we already have.
The gap between the rich and the poor in our country increases rapidly. Poverty is not fun and as Christians we have a crusade against excess and for justice. The recent well researched and calmly argued social statement from Free Churches in England and Scotland and their appeal to the government to stop demonising the poor and ignoring corporate greed, has been dismissed by the chancellor of the Exchequer as a ‘depressingly predictable outrage’ , coming from ‘vested interests’. That word ‘vested’ is loaded and ironic coming from a government who under the guise of dealing with the nation’s serious debt crises is restructuring the welfare of particularly vulnerable people, whilst leaving the financial sector of our society unscathed.. The economist Will Hutton writes about the ‘retreat of virtue’ which has become ‘the plague of our times’ with greed becoming the huge gap in trust between the elite and the people.
* Feeling alone amongst the other disciples? Dealing with the loss of his dreams? A financial arrangement?
You must draw your own conclusions and I’ve only hinted at some of mine and the consequences they may raise for us. The remaining disciples may have pondered the same sort of things as they lived in the aftermath of the resurrection; an old world made new, but one without Judas. A bitter memory perhaps of their onetime colleague, but living now with the possibilities of goodness for all people everywhere. Their creed summed up in what we call the Beatitudes, part of the extract from Luke’s gospel, but which they must also have remembered as they lived with the presence of Jesus living with them. The ‘Kingdom’ Jesus had said, is for the poor, the hungry, and the weeping but not for the rich, the well fed and the well spoken of.
More than Judas could cope with? What about us?