Judas Iscariot (1) – Betrayal

The Story of Judas Iscariot“You’ve given me the confidence to feel I can go out with someone else,” she told me on Valentine’s Day. Nearly 40 years on (and after over 30 with my wife) I can laugh at the back-handed compliment from a former girlfriend as she left me for another man. But at the time it felt like betrayal.

Please read Luke 22:4-6 & Luke 22:47-48

Judas has always had a bad press. Always the last of the Twelve to be mentioned. Often portrayed wearing black. His name used to denounce others. A victim, then? Maybe, but partly of his own making. Vulnerable to the rich and powerful? Pretty much undoubtedly.

Betrayal. Often deliberate. Always hurtful. Sometimes breaking confidence or trust. The object of the betrayal may be a specific person (such as Jesus) or towards a cause (as when Judas showed the chief priests where they could find him). It happens in times of war (and peace, for that matter) or by betraying a nation. It happens in workplaces and churches. And potentially most hurtfully in personal relationships. Being betrayed is a very painful loss. A loss of trust. And often the loss of a person we once trusted.

Judas also betrayed himself, though. Maybe he did it for the money and because he thought it would help him to be part of the ‘in-crowd’. To feel accepted and lauded as the one who dealt with a troublemaker. He sniffed fame and fortune and it smelt good. But he soon felt the consequences and it cost him his life.

We too can betray ourselves. We can make choices and decisions because we think that’s what others want us to do rather than staying true to ourselves or listening to God. We might live to the false self we portray to others because we want to feel accepted: or to fulfil an inbuilt need to know we are ‘as good as’ other people.

The desire for such acceptance, while quite natural (and important) can sometimes be at the price of who we really are – and at the cost of who God wants us to be. It can be at the loss of our true self. The loss of who we are as a person made in God’s image.

In fact, it takes a lot less effort simply to be oneself than to try to be like someone else. To just be the person who we are. If we can focus on being ourself – our true self – then we can be more fully equipped to address (and, as necessary, to change) the parts which make us feel we are ‘not acceptable’.

‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ Jesus described those words as one of the greatest commandments.

Probably most people feel comfortable with the ‘love your neighbour’ bit. “Yep, I can do that. That bit’s OK.” It will be difficult to love those who have betrayed us, of course, and we can probably accept that there will always be some people we don’t like that much or get on with. But, pretty much, the act of loving our neighbour (however one chooses to define that word) can often be fairly straightforward and comparatively easy to do, especially if we have some choice about the friends we keep or do not keep, for example.

But what about ‘as yourself’? To love ourself in the same way as we love our neighbour? So many people find it difficult to love themselves.

The Gospel writers only tell us the bad bits about Judas. We don’t have a balanced view of him. Loving ourselves involves having a balanced view. For many people, for a lot of the time, the focus can be on the bad bits. The mistakes. The wrong words. The difficult memories. The hurts. The times when we got it wrong. The times when we felt betrayed.

But there are also good bits. True, sometimes it’s more difficult to focus on them but they are there. The things we got right. The successes (they don’t have to be huge and noticeable). The compliments we receive (even when we struggle to accept they might be true). Recognising our good bits is not about boastfulness (or the fear that doing so is somehow ‘sinful’). Knowing our good bits is about recognising and acknowledging that which God in his grace has given us and made good within us.

Knowing our good bits and having a balanced view of ourselves is crucial towards knowing our true self and loving ourselves. And by loving ourselves, not only can we love our neighbours more effectively as well, but we come to fully know the love that God has for us.

We topic of love is also considered in the story of another of the central group of twelve disciples, John.

In what ways might you be betraying your true self?

In what ways do you love yourself?

 

 

When you’re ready, move on to Part 2 of this story.

Mary Magdalene (1) – Fiction

Mary MagdaleneAfter considering Judas’ lasting reputation, we now turn to another of Jesus’ followers whose story has been embellished and fabricated long after they lived: Mary Magdalene.

Please read Luke 8:1-3

Coming from the fishing village of Magdala Tarichaea on the western shore of Lake Galilee, for centuries after her death she has been called a prostitute, depicted in art as semi-naked and as an isolated hermit repenting her sins in the wilderness – and even portrayed as Jesus’ wife.

This alternative story began 591, when Pope Gregory the Great declared in a sermon that Mary Magdalene, Mary of Bethany and the sinful woman described in Luke 7:36-50 were the same person. It was not until 1969, nearly 1400 years later, that the Roman Catholic Church decided Mary Magdalene was not, in fact, Luke’s penitent sinner. Further to that, in 2016, Pope Francis declared a major feast day for her (22 June) effectively placing her on a par with the male apostles. But even so, the reputation still lingers.

The second most mentioned woman in the Bible (the most being Mary, the mother of Jesus) and unlike any of the other women, she is not described in relation to someone else. She is not someone’s wife, mother or sister. She is Mary. Mary from Magdala. She has her own identity. She knows who she is. And she knows God knows who she is. And, as we will see, God calls her by name.

As with Mary Magdalene, history has a long record of other people making up all sorts of things or attributing words or actions incorrectly. The manipulation of information has existed since time immemorial. Even the Gospel writers wrote and edited the accounts and stories they heard from their sources to suit their own interpretation and the audience they wished to reach (e.g. Matthew wrote primarily to a Jewish readership; Luke for Gentiles). Governments throughout the centuries have conveyed the ‘facts’ in ways to support their manifesto and policy promises. The political ‘spin doctors’ of recent decades play a prominent role and, more recently, the rapid rise to prominence of ‘fake news’ has provided an alternative and even less palatable version of misrepresentation. From its origins in social media (presenting false stories as if they we true) the term ‘fake news’ soon found its way in to the language as a way of quickly dismissing criticism and other inconvenient truths. Society betraying itself perhaps.

On an individual level, probably all of us have felt misrepresented at times or that others have not understood our intentions and actions. “No, I didn’t mean it like that!” “What I meant to say was…” “Do you really think I would think that?” Times when the resulting hurt is immense. When lies that people tell become the perceived truth. When arguments tear everyone apart. When anger and bitterness becomes etched in the faces of the aggrieved. When no one believes we are the person we know ourselves to be.

History has presented us with a false image of Mary Magdalene and yet she has such a story to tell from her true self. Sometimes, we are not the ones responsible for the false image that is portrayed. Others may have made comments or spread rumours causing division and hurt, misunderstanding and pain. Colouring views, opinions and prejudices. Sometimes we can base our thoughts about others on such matters too.

Have your views of someone else been influenced by misunderstanding and rumour?

 

 

When you’re ready, move on to Part 2 of this story.

NEW: The Uncondemned Woman – (1) Accused *

As with the woman from Samaria, here we have another unnamed woman. Another woman facing the judgement and prejudices of others. A woman forever remembered by something she was caught doing.

Please read John 7:53-8:11

This encounter is one that has puzzled many over the years. Indeed, its very place in the Gospels has been subject to debate. Some have said it wasn’t written by John because it doesn’t reflect his style of writing. Some have said it should be in one of the synoptic gospels (particularly thinking of Luke). Some manuscripts exclude the incident completely and it’s not even part of the lectionary of Sunday readings used week by week in the Church of England. But the fact we have this account at all would seem to indicate that the event actually took place and is a story handed down for us to learn from.

Once again, Jesus crosses cultural boundaries – and this time it happens in the busyness of a town, and not just that, but in the Temple itself. Not unusually, Jesus had been teaching the crowds. Bearing in mind, the cultural protocols, the Pharisees bring a woman to him. A woman caught in the act of adultery. From their perspective it was another attempt to trick Jesus and they quote Mosaic law which, echoing the Seventh Commandment (Do not commit adultery), dictated stoning to death as a punishment for sexual misdemeanours (Deut 22:13-30 – see also Lev 20:10).

Commentators have speculated that the particular piece of law which applies to this incident says: ‘If there is a young woman, a virgin already engaged to be married, and a man meets her in the town and lies with her, you shall bring both of them to the gate of that town and stone them to death, the young woman because she did not cry for help in the town and the man because he violated his neighbour’s wife.’ (Deut 22:23-24)

We can immediately think of another virgin engaged to be married, can’t we? And how the gospel accounts are at pains to tell us that ‘(Joseph) had no marital relations with (Mary) until she had borne a son.’ (Matt 1:25) Sitting alongside the clarity of their calling is the punishment of the day. Just think what would have not happened had either of them ‘lapsed’…

Note also how John’s account doesn’t tell us about the man involved. According to the law, he too should have been stoned to death. Where was he in all this? He’d been caught in the act of adultery too. Was he at the gate of the town meeting his fate or had he escaped the clutches of his accusers? And neither do we know anything about the woman’s betrothed or fiancé as we would call him nowadays. What about him? Did he know? Did he subsequently call off the engagement? Was he even one of the men stood ready to throw stones?

Betrayal in love produces all sorts of reactions and responses. Whether or not it was as ‘significant’ as the encounter we are considering in this story, if it’s ever happened to you in some form then you may have some understanding and empathy with the players in this particular scene. Perhaps you were ready to ‘throw stones’. Or carried the embarrassment of being made a ‘cuckold’. The shame of being caught in the act. Or hearing about it from others.

And as for the Pharisees:  ‘Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her,’ Jesus said. Reminiscent perhaps for his hearers of his own teaching on the subject: ‘Everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.’ (Matt 5.28) And which among us has never done that….

And to bring a contemporary parallel, Daniel Maurer writes ‘Where else do we see (primarily) men shaming and using women for purposes of making themselves look better? You don’t have to look far to begin to understand the recent phenomenon of #MeToo and how much Jesus would have been behind it.’

As the woman stood there, her accusers gathered ready to condemn and Jesus bends down and writes in the sand. The 4th Century bishop and hymn writer, St Ambrose speculates that Jesus wrote ‘Why do you point out the splinter in your brother’s eye and never notice the beam in your own?’

What thoughts does this story provoke in you about your own attitudes and responses to those who have done wrong in your eyes?

Was there a time when you were ‘condemned’ for something?

 

 

When you are ready move on to Part 2 of this story.