There are reasons
-Rev Melissa Fain-
History is written by the winners. If we simply took that fact to heart, we'd be able to step outside ourselves to see the bigger picture.
Judas was a loser. He ultimately went to the wrong team, and those with the power to tell the story labeled him a betrayer.
Of course, he was. Let's not pretend something else happened. He turned Jesus over to the Temple leaders for a few pieces of silver. But why did he do it?
I've mentioned this a few times. The "why" of a situation is usually far more important than the "what." We often know the "what." "Whats" are easy to piece together, but lack reasons. We need reasons because understanding the why something happened helps us know what to do or not to do again. Reasons are the keys to the future.
Who was Judas:
Ah, we know Judas. Betrayer, not welcome anymore. Done. We've put him in the villain category, which gives us an unwritten freedom to make him as nasty or bad as we want. Dante put him in the innermost circle of hell, forever being eaten by Satan in the bitter cold exclusion of God.
Is that what we should do? Really? Judas has taken everything bad about everything, just to get him out of the room and moving on. None of us could connect to someone like that. Yet, I think we finally live in a world where we can seriously look at our excluded Disciple. (The blue sentence delves into Infinity War, feel free to skip over it if you are one of the dozen people who haven't seen the movie but plan to.) In Infinity War, our creative imagination allowed us to see Thanos' side of things and still understand how he was wrong. We live in a culture that understands and can sympathize with the the villain, because social media vilifies us all at some point. Judas is us. We might be closer to him, than we are to anyone else in the Bible.
Judas was the keeper of funds. His name is questionable. It could mean "the human," or "the Judean." If it's human, than it's to highlight his failing. If his name means "Judean" it means he was the only Disciple from Judea. Either way, it doesn't give us answers. Considering he was the treasurer of the group, which would at least lead us to believe he knew how to read what needed to be read. This made him more educated than the fishermen of the group.
Judas was also reclined next to Jesus at the Passover Meal. Those right next to the head of the table in Ancient Near East meals were special. We should look at Judas' story as an epic tragedy. This was someone who had trust and status among his peers.
Preparing for the wrong ending.
It's the perfume that has me thinking. Let me jog your memory.
The synoptic Gospels are Matthew, Mark, and Luke. They are synoptic because there are stories that not only line up, but have almost identical language in some places. It leads some very smart people to believe there were even older versions of the story that were used when writing these three Gospels. This mysterious Q and M are compelling conversation starters, but click the links if you want to learn more. This is about perfume.
All four Gospels have an account of the betrayal of Judas. Three of those are near or during this event where perfume is used on Jesus. In Matthew, Mark, and Luke the perfume event isn't solely Judas' moment. Multiple people were upset such expensive oils were being, as they believed, wasted.
How do I say this? John is believed to be written about twenty years after the other three Gospels. A few months ago, I was called into a conversation asking why it was written so late. For years my go-to answer has been to understand the early church. We should read John like he is writing to the first real Christians. He was. It's the easy answer. The harder answer might be something different.
We need to read John to understand how the story can change. This is where I'm going to make many of you uncomfortable. Push into that discomfort. I'm working your spiritual muscles.
Mark: He did it for what?
3 Jesus was at Bethany visiting the house of Simon, who had a skin disease. During dinner, a woman came in with a vase made of alabaster and containing very expensive perfume of pure nard. She broke open the vase and poured the perfume on his head. 4 Some grew angry. They said to each other, “Why waste the perfume? 5 This perfume could have been sold for almost a year’s pay and the money given to the poor.” And they scolded her.
6 Jesus said, “Leave her alone. Why do you make trouble for her? She has done a good thing for me. 7 You always have the poor with you; and whenever you want, you can do something good for them. But you won’t always have me. 8 She has done what she could. She has anointed my body ahead of time for burial. 9 I tell you the truth that, wherever in the whole world the good news is announced, what she’s done will also be told in memory of her.”
10 Judas Iscariot, one of the Twelve, went to the chief priests to give Jesus up to them. 11 When they heard it, they were delighted and promised to give him money. So he started looking for an opportunity to turn him in.
Mark 14:3-16 CEB
Mark is considered the Gospel closest to the action. It's the shortest of the four, and it sometimes reads like Cliff Notes. People who are close to stories often preclude facts simply known to their own community. Early Christian communities were not going to waste ink and time telling what everyone already knew.
What is the Gospel closest to the action saying about the betrayal?
Matthew: What will you give me?
6 When Jesus was at Bethany visiting the house of Simon, who had a skin disease, 7 a woman came to him with a vase made of alabaster containing very expensive perfume. She poured it on Jesus’ head while he was sitting at dinner. 8 Now when the disciples saw it they were angry and said, “Why this waste? 9 This perfume could have been sold for a lot of money and given to the poor.”
10 But Jesus knew what they were thinking. He said, “Why do you make trouble for the woman? She’s done a good thing for me. 11 You always have the poor with you, but you won’t always have me. 12 By pouring this perfume over my body she’s prepared me to be buried. 13 I tell you the truth that wherever in the whole world this good news is announced, what she’s done will also be told in memory of her.”
14 Then one of the Twelve, who was called Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests 15 and said, “What will you give me if I turn Jesus over to you?” They paid him thirty pieces of silver. 16 From that time on he was looking for an opportunity to turn him in.
Matthew 28:6-16 CEB
Matthew is the gospel written to point to the Hebrew Bible, or Old Testament. Matthew is typically understood as being the second oldest to Mark. Dating the books is not fun. People in early Christian times didn't really care about publication dates. They cared about the content. So, while we do things like carbon dating slivers of ancient manuscript to try to find the original date, just know many think Mark was first. (Most within my circles of influence.)
You will notice how close Mark and Matthew are to one another. Except for a few details. Mark said "a few grew angry" over the perfume, while Matthew flat out says it's the Disciples who spoke out, This detail seems important, and I'll get back to it near the end. The big game changer in Matthew is Judas is now seeking out the Pharisee's for compensation. It's no longer the joy of the Pharisee's seeing their way to destroy him that led to being paid.
(Here's where I want to remind my non-ordained friends of something. God is in the moment. The moment was so big, it was written down and told. The Bible is that telling. Already, we see the story doesn't line up. The pieces are not easily fitting together. Unless other Disciples were there when Judas went to the Chief Priests, they have no idea who brought up the money issue. It becomes easier to digest if Judas was there for money. We can see how the story has shifted in just a couple of years. That's okay! The Truth is in the story changing.)
Luke: A Story Apart
7:36 One of the Pharisees invited Jesus to eat with him. After he entered the Pharisee’s home, he took his place at the table. 37 Meanwhile, a woman from the city, a sinner, discovered that Jesus was dining in the Pharisee’s house. She brought perfumed oil in a vase made of alabaster.38 Standing behind him at his feet and crying, she began to wet his feet with her tears. She wiped them with her hair, kissed them, and poured the oil on them. 39 When the Pharisee who had invited Jesus saw what was happening, he said to himself, If this man were a prophet, he would know what kind of woman is touching him. He would know that she is a sinner.
22:1 The Festival of Unleavened Bread, which is called Passover, was approaching. 2 The chief priests and the legal experts were looking for a way to kill Jesus, because they were afraid of the people. 3 Then Satan entered Judas, called Iscariot, who was one of the Twelve. 4 He went out and discussed with the chief priests and the officers of the temple guard how he could hand Jesus over to them. 5 They were delighted and arranged payment for him. 6 He agreed and began looking for an opportunity to hand Jesus over to them—a time when the crowds would be absent.
Luke 7:36-39; 22:1-6 CEB
Luke is the investigative reporter of the Gospels. There are far fewer people willing to argue Mark was written anything but first. There are more who would question which came first, Matthew or Luke. Many date it around the same time. I put Luke after Matthew for one really important reason: Theophilus. Unlike Mark and Matthew, we know Luke's take is to convince the outsider. He's writing to someone who wasn't there and doesn't know. The writer of Luke wants to convince Theophilus.
Here's where we come back to what Mark wrote versus what Matthew wrote on who was upset over the perfume. When the story takes place in Simon's house, it makes sense the people present to be upset would be the Disciples. Who else would be there? Luke's research moves it out of Simon's house and into a Pharisee's house. Perhaps Nicodemus; maybe not. The point being, when it's in a Pharisee's house, the many who were upset clearly becomes the Pharisee's, not the Disciples.
Not only do we have a change in location, but Luke has completely moved the perfume story away from the betrayal. Now Judas needs a reason to betray Jesus. It was Satan.
Okay- so just for a moment, let's consider this seriously. Every New Testament story on demon possession never puts blame on the vessel being possessed. If you follow that Satan possessed Judas, then why have we turned him into a bad guy? I'll answer this for you: Because of John.
John: The guilt has been named.
12:1 Six days before Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, home of Lazarus, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. 2 Lazarus and his sisters hosted a dinner for him. Martha served and Lazarus was among those who joined him at the table. 3 Then Mary took an extraordinary amount, almost three-quarters of a pound, of very expensive perfume made of pure nard. She anointed Jesus’ feet with it, then wiped his feet dry with her hair. The house was filled with the aroma of the perfume. 4 Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), complained, 5 “This perfume was worth a year’s wages! Why wasn’t it sold and the money given to the poor?” (6 He said this not because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief. He carried the money bag and would take what was in it.) 7 Then Jesus said, “Leave her alone. This perfume was to be used in preparation for my burial, and this is how she has used it. 8 You will always have the poor among you, but you won’t always have me.”
13:2 Jesus and his disciples were sharing the evening meal. The devil had already provoked Judas, Simon Iscariot’s son, to betray Jesus. 3 Jesus knew the Father had given everything into his hands and that he had come from God and was returning to God
21 After he said these things, Jesus was deeply disturbed and testified, “I assure you, one of you will betray me.”
22 His disciples looked at each other, confused about which of them he was talking about. 23 One of the disciples, the one whom Jesus loved, was at Jesus’ side. 24 Simon Peter nodded at him to get him to ask Jesus who he was talking about. 25 Leaning back toward Jesus, this disciple asked, “Lord, who is it?”
26 Jesus answered, “It’s the one to whom I will give this piece of bread once I have dipped into the bowl.”Then he dipped the piece of bread and gave it to Judas, Simon Iscariot’s son. 27 After Judas took the bread, Satan entered into him. Jesus told him, “What you are about to do, do quickly.” 28 No one sitting at the table understood why Jesus said this to him. 29 Some thought that, since Judas kept the money bag, Jesus told him, “Go, buy what we need for the feast,” or that he should give something to the poor. 30 So when Judas took the bread, he left immediately. And it was night.
John 12:1-8; John 13:2-3; 21-30 CEB
John is a good look at how the early church viewed the story of Christ. Just like Mark is almost resoundingly considered the earliest/oldest Gospel account, John is considered the latest/newest Gospel. A few decades have passed since the transcription of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. John comes in, and tells a different story. It's a story the early church needs to hear. It's written for their ears.
That's why it isn't surprising how radically the story transforms in just a couple of decades. Like I wrote at the beginning, history is written by the winners. Judas was the loser, and his story had to be understood. This mixture of being a bad egg and possessed by Satan, allows the early church to move on.
It doesn't make sense. Why would the closest Disciples leave their money in Judas' hands for as long as they did, if he was always taking a bit off the top? Because the story changed to make him the bad guy. It was easier to vilify him than understand him.
Not I, Lord
I believe most, if not all of the Disciples, were thinking this was the Messiah who was coming to destroy the system with deadly force. Judas was bold enough to try to force that hand, to make Jesus play the ace he thought he was holding.
When Judas realized he got it wrong, that he sent his beloved teacher and friend to death, it was too much for him. He committed suicide. It was then easy for the Disciples to make Judas the scapegoat for their false belief. If they believed the real truth, the remaining Disciples wouldn't have hidden after the crucifixion. They were all guilty. They were all betrayers. Judas just acted on his betrayal.
What do we do with this? What is the point? Well, first we need to remember, even those closest to Jesus got it wrong. We have to realize if those who heard the inflections of the words as they were spoken from Jesus' lips didn't get it, we sure as Hades are going to misstep a few times in our lives. That's why we are called to humility! The moment someone claims to be above reproach is the moment we need to run quickly in the opposite direction.
Second, our grace must equal our humility. If you don't think that sentence is the most difficult task ever given, then you don't understand what I'm saying. We all have a Judas moment(s), where we think we are doing the right thing, and only realize afterwards how we were not in the right. As God has forgiven us, we must extend that forgiveness to others.
Finally, vilification still happens even though it's not God's plan. Dog piling, and throwing blame on one person will always be a problem. There will always be someone who will refuse to stand up to their share of the sin. How we dealt with Judas is Christianity's first black mark, and there have been countless others since then. To quote Ben Franklin, and to end on a very stark note: "We must all hang together, or most assuredly we will all hang separately."