After he had said this, Jesus was troubled in spirit and testified, “Very truly I tell you, one of you is going to betray me.” His disciples stared at one another, at a loss to know which of them he meant. One of them, the disciple whom Jesus loved, was reclining next to him. Simon Peter motioned to this disciple and said, “Ask him which one he means.” Leaning back against Jesus, he asked him, “Lord, who is it?” Jesus answered, “It is the one to whom I will give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish.” Then, dipping the piece of bread, he gave it to Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot. As soon as Judas took the bread, Satan entered into him. So Jesus told him, “What you are about to do, do quickly.” But no one at the meal understood why Jesus said this to him. Since Judas had charge of the money, some thought Jesus was telling him to buy what was needed for the festival, or to give something to the poor. As soon as Judas had taken the bread, he went out. And it was night. When he was gone, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man is glorified and God is glorified in him. If God is glorified in him, God will glorify the Son in himself, and will glorify him at once.
– John 13:21-32
This scene is incredibly confusing. It’s hard to envision what the hell is going on partially because it’s hard to understand the setting or the location, and when you throw in our ingrained image of Leonardo Di Vinci’s The Last Summer we are left with what feels like an awkward situation.
It’s Wednesday, and maybe awkward is what this part of Holy Week is. We’ve neither just begun nor are we there yet, and whether you are longing for the still dark clarity of Good Friday or the joyous celebration of Easter, what we know about Wednesday is she leaves us feeling gross, uncertain, anxious and overly excited and yet numb, much like the strained interactions in the scene above.
But thank God for Judas! If it wasn’t for Judas what would we do? If it wasn’t for Judas we’d have to sit in this cold tension and we’d have to look at ourselves. If it wasn’t for Judas we’d stare at one another even longer searching for the guilty party. And if it wasn’t for Judas we’d eventually have to stare at ourselves.
But thank God for Judas! We’ve been saved! We are set free from our betrayal because of the price he paid. He took the bread, which Jesus dipped in the wine so the betrayer cannot possibly be us. Thank God for Judas who takes away the sins of the world. 364 days a year Christians celebrate the sacrificial atoning work of Jesus but on this day, the day of Jesus’ betrayal, we give thanks to God for Judas.
Judas certainly doesn’t carry our sins nor does he take them away. He doesn’t heal us or mend the brokenness we carry with us wherever we go. However, he does carry our projections. He carries all the discomfort, awkwardness and shame, which is really about us or at least ours to deal with. We love to blame Judas because it’s much safer and initially relieving to experience our shadow in another person than experience it in ourselves.
Judas is our boss, our co-worker, Judas is our dad who neglected us and our mom who enmeshed with us. Judas is the system that wronged us and the structure, which keeps us tied down. For many of us it may even be hard to distinguish between Judas and Jesus because sometimes he’s our savior and sometimes he’s our scapegoat.
Here is the invitation today. Embrace what is awkward. Embrace your inner Judas. Learn to accept your deep proclivity to be both innocent and guilty, to be Judas and the other disciples. Settle into the uncomfortable seating arrangement of the Last Supper, and stop coming to God only once you’re free of paradox. You are both a fraud and a friend, both a fake and full of integrity; you both love Jesus and sometimes wish he were dead.
Real discipleship is not about being acquitted of betrayal but about bringing the light and darkness into a single focus – it’s not about guilt or innocence but about freedom and healing. At the Last Supper the disciples had yet to learn they too were betrayers, and Judas had yet to learn he was deeply loved, so if there is anything we can learn from the awkward confusion of life it may be that this to be human is to carry both light and shadow and the truest work of discipleship is to bring them together.
In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.