Here are my thoughts for the 5th Sunday in Lent.
Right off the bat let me say that I have not read the “Gospel of Judas” but only followed the discussion that has transpired. Like so much of the other stuff that has been published, discovered, or discussed recently, I tend to gloss over such items. It is not that I think they are frivolous or meaningless but rather that they are complicated attempts to explain the simplest of life’s explanation; that is to say, Christ died for us while we were sinners and because of his death we have gained the right to eternal life.
But it would be nice to know how Judas felt about John and the other disciples. For it is quite clear that John did not like Judas, as he points out in today’s Gospel reading (1) that Judas was stealing from the group’s funds. I think John’s comment comes from the outcome of Judas’ betrayal.
From what I understand, Judas was among those who sought to establish God’s kingdom here on earth. He was committed to a violent overthrow of the Roman government controlling Israel and he was probably just as opposed to the religious authorities who controlled the lives of the people and collaborated with the Roman authorities. As such, each day that Jesus spoke of the kingdom that was to come, Judas became more and more disenchanted with the ministry of which he was so much a part.
In today’s Gospel reading, Judas’ disenchantment is vocalized when he criticizes the use of the perfume used by Mary to wash Jesus’ feet. It is interesting that Judas argued that the money should be spent for the poor and the needy. His comments remind me of many radical groups today (both Eastern and Western) who gather support for their causes by developing programs that give food and assistance to the poor and the needy. If there was ever proof of the radical nature of Judas’ cause, this statement offers it.
The problem for us today is not that John and the other disciples mistrusted Judas. Each of the disciples had problems understanding the same ministry; it would not be until the culmination of what we call Holy Week that they would understand the true nature of the ministry of which they had also been a part.
I think the problem is that we are more like Judas than we realize. We may not be as committed to the revolution as Judas sought but we do not understand the revolution that Jesus sought. We would argue that money spent on the perfume should be spent on ourselves more than it should be spent on the poor and the needy.
We have a culture that is centered on our own needs, not the needs of others. We are not prepared for the coming kingdom that Jesus offers to us. We are like Paul when he was still Saul. As Saul, he was committed to the status quo and the protection of the present system. As he noted in his letter to the Philippians (2), he even sought to persecute the beginning of the Christian church.
But he noted in the same letter that whatever he might have gained as Saul was actually a loss. And, as Paul, through Christ, he gained everything. But he also noted that was much more that needed to be done.
No longer does Paul seek things for himself, as he would have done when he was Saul. Remember that as Saul, he went to the authorities in Jerusalem seeking permission to go to Damascus to find and persecute the Christians living there. We know of course that on that road, he encountered Christ and life changed in more ways than one.
Isaiah speaks of a new thing, a world in which the world changes. (3) The world of old, where power and might rule is to be replaced. What we have to do today is decide whether we want to live in that world or not. Are we going to be like Judas, seeking the rearrangement of the power structure in the present day? Or are we going to be like Paul, recognizing the new order found in Christ?
I will not be an apologist for Judas. Like the other disciples, he saw in Jesus an opportunity to change the world. But he allowed his personality to dominate his life; he allowed his personality to prevent him from seeing the outcome that was so much of what Jesus said and did.
As Saul, Paul was much like Judas, committed to a path which was limited in scope and outcome. But as Paul, with the new personality he found in Christ, the boundaries of his new mission became even greater than he could imagine and the outcome far beyond the limits of human imagination.
We all have a personality. It is a question of whether we will our personality to dominate our lives or shall we give up our personality and find a new one in Christ? Shall we focus on the present and the status quo? Or will we see beyond the present and seek what is to come?
Lent is almost over. But the call to repent, first begun in the wilderness by John the Baptist, has not ended. Shall we keep the personality that ties us to the present age and find discomfort in the nature of God’s kingdom? Or shall we give up this world and allow Christ to redefine our lives? It is simply of what personality we wish to have in the coming days.
(1) John 12: 1 – 8
(2) Philippians 3: 4 – 14
(3) Isaiah 43: 16 – 21