April 21, 2011

Pity poor Judas. Has there ever been a human so reviled? Betraying Jesus? Even if you don’t buy into the whole “Son of God” thing, it’s pretty clear that Jesus never really did anything wrong, and Judas sold him down the river. Right?

This is the terrible thing about Judas. How are we supposed to think about him? If you believe in free will, then Judas freely chose to betray a friend and condemn him to a brutal death. And if you believe in predestination, then it was all part of some plan to torture a guy to death in order to attain salvation. Either choice is really, to my thinking, pretty terrible.

And today’s the day he did it. There was a kiss, and Jesus was delivered into the hands of the people who would kill him. And how are we supposed to think about it? I wonder if there’s a middle ground. It is very difficult for me to get around the fact that Judas betrayed Jesus. He sold him out. But who among us hasn’t done that to a friend, even a dear friend? Probably the stakes weren’t that high, but was Judas even aware of the stakes? Could he have known that by the next day his friend would be dead? Would he have done if he had?

And what about Jesus? This was a guy who made it his profession to piss people off. He had enemies, and he knew it. Wasn’t it inevitable that someone was going to betray him? Weren’t his actions inevitably leading to an encounter like this, particularly against an imperial power like Rome? If not Judas, then Peter, right?

I think we’ve all been there. A person we respect, love, and support finally says or does something that we’re not able to condone. We just can’t follow them there. Maybe we don’t deliver them into the hands of the Roman Empire for 30 pieces, but we sell them out nonetheless. And does that betrayal hurt any less for not having death at the end of it? There’s a rupture, a loss that we can’t quantify, and it kills us. When The Hold Steady sing, “I’ve had kisses that make Judas seem sincere,” they’re talking about just this experience. It’s a deeply human experience, one made all the more profound by the stakes behind Gethsemane. This is what ends up being most compelling about Lent to me. It is an unbelievably human season. Foreboding, betrayal, hurt, pain, death, triumph, joy. This is what it means to be a human, and when the writers of the Gospels say that God has experienced that, it affirms this sort of existence.

Yes, it sucks. Yes, it isn’t fair. But it is what we are. This life is worth all that. Even when Judas kisses us, it is worth it, if only for the glimpses we get of the better things out there.

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