by Maria Evans
Daily Office readings for the feast of St. John:
The story of Jesus’ betrayal always sticks with us, because, frankly, betrayal is at the root of some of our most powerful negative emotions and feelings. Mostly, they emerge from the times we’ve been betrayed. They can, however, be rooted in the times we have been the betrayer. (More on that in a minute, though.)
Out of all the Gospel writers, John is probably the one who gives Judas the least quarter (with Luke a close second). John wastes no opportunity to let his readers know what a sleazebag Judas is in chapter 13 in the story of Mary of Bethany anointing Jesus. (To paraphrase John, “Not only is Judas the evil so-and-so who’s going to betray Jesus, he’s cheap, too, and probably an embezzler!”) Through John’s eyes, we experience the feelings we know oh, too well, when we’ve been betrayed. We look for every opportunity to smear the person who hurt us, or hurt someone we love. We somehow think our pain will be less if we can win other people over to the idea that this person is, at best, an awful hunk of human protoplasm, and, at worst, just plain evil. (both John and Luke malign Judas by dragging Satan into the narrative.)
Only Matthew gives us a glimpse of the other side of the story, in Matthew 27. Judas sees the result of his actions, and is clearly filled with guilt and remorse. He tries to give the thirty pieces of silver back, but the reaction of the chief priests and elders is both predictable and metaphorical. “What is that to us? See to it yourself.” You can’t unbreak an egg. You can’t replace lost innocence. You can’t ever make some things right when you’ve betrayed someone. All a person can do is find a way forward somehow. Unfortunately, Judas can’t find a way forward. He hangs himself.
What made Judas do it? Who knows. I refuse to believe it was part of some big plan “that had to happen for Jesus to become the Messiah. The God depicted in our reading from Proverbs today wouldn’t do that. Our Proverbs reading speaks of a God who delights in human creation. That God woudn’t say, “…well, except you. You? I’m making you to be a skunk and a tool in hurting people. Sorry, but them’s the breaks.” I suppose Judas did what he did for the same reasons many of us have had when we were dishonest with ourselves and thought using someone else or throwing them under the bus looked like a good idea at the time. Something happened–whether it was fear or jealousy or insecurity–that caused us to separate ourselves from the idea that God delights in us and loves us. We needed some sort of false satisfaction that we somehow were getting what we thought we needed. I suppose Judas had those same kinds of feelings.
Yet…we never see a hint of anger towards Judas from Jesus. When Jesus does feel forsaken, he addresses those words directly to God…not Judas…from the cross…and perhaps that’s our learning point for us today as we ponder these readings.
The sad reality is that to be human, we will be betrayed–and sometimes we will be the betrayer. When we have been betrayed, we want to hold onto every bit of that hurt, for a lot longer than is good for us. We want to savor every ill thought we have towards our betrayer and be pretty vicious about it (The Marilyn Manson quote, “I hope that those who have betrayed us…get hit by a train falling from heaven filled with AIDS and rabid kittens,” comes to mind) and believe somehow that thinking those poisoned thoughts won’t harm us. On the other hand, when we have been the betrayer, we either go all Scarlett O’Hara about it (“I can’t think about that right now, if I do I’ll go crazy…I’ll think about that tomorrow”) or try to rationalize it based on our fears or a perceived smaller betrayal towards us (“She/he doesn’t seem interested in me anymore, so I’ll go find someone who is for a while.”)
All the poisoned thinking or the rationalization does–no matter which end we are on in a betrayal–is push us further and further away from the love of a God who creates master workers and delights in them. Our betrayers getting what we believe to be their just desserts won’t do it, and when we have been the betrayer, falling on our swords and hoping to be taken back won’t do it either. Couples and friends who have survived betrayal will tell you that even if there is a reconciliation, there will always be a scar–a scar that accidentally gets bumped and flares up in pain, or carefully avoided so as not to cause pain. They may grow stronger in love or friendship again, but it will never be the way it used to be. It can only be “stronger, but in a different way.” In the end, we only find forgiveness in speaking directly to God. Even then, the reality of this broken world is that most relationships do not survive betrayal..yet the Good News is that we can not only survive, but be transformed, even if we have to live with the consequences.
When is a time that you survived betraying or being betrayed by someone, and what did God reveal that moved you from pain to healing?
Maria Evans, a surgical pathologist from Kirksville, MO, is a grateful member of Trinity Episcopal Church and a transitional Deacon in the Episcopal Diocese of Missouri. You can also share her journey on her blog, Chapologist.