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.

Judas Iscariot (2) – Loss

The Story of Judas IscariotSo what else can we learn from the life of Judas? More specifically, what can we learn from the death of Judas? (Please be aware this entry deals with the sensitive topic of suicide.)

Please read Matthew 27:3-5

When someone takes their own life, the impact on those left behind is devastating. When it’s a terminally ill 92 year-old care home resident who takes her life a few weeks after her husband died, one can to an extent understand why she might have chosen to do so. But all the same it is devastating for family and the care home staff alike. When a 32 year-old’s life is turning around after years of depression does so, it shatters parents, siblings, friends and healthcare professionals who supported them alike. Everyone is left drowning in a pool of despair asking ‘Why did they do it?’ ‘What else could we have done?’ ‘What did we do wrong?’

Coming as it did just hours before Christ himself was crucified, for the remaining eleven disciples and the others who followed Jesus, Judas’ death would have been devastating. Yes, he had his fingers in the purse. Yes, he walked in to the garden at Gethsemane and handed over the Messiah. Yes, he had betrayed not just Jesus but that whole group who had gone through so much together in the previous three years. After all, he’d witnessed healings and miracles. He’d listened to the teaching. He’d walked and prayed. He was given the same authority to minister to others as the rest of the disciples. He’d had his feet washed. He received that first communion. Judas had become a friend. A close friend. And then he did that.

Although we do not know the full facts, Judas took his own life out of remorse for the sheer magnitude of what he had done. He condemned an innocent man to death. His suicide was perhaps as impulsive as the act of betrayal. In the end, Judas betrayed himself completely.

Although there is often a link between suicide and mental ill health, three-quarters of those who end their own lives are not in contact with mental health services. Despite the ‘protective factors’ someone may have in place (e.g. a partner or children; receiving and accepting support) the desire to end their own suffering (whatever that may mean for the person concerned) and the burden they believe themselves to be for others, it all becomes too much and they make a decision to end their life.

In that most poignant of paradoxes, the making of that decision often results in the person feeling calmer than they did before. The end is now in sight. And for those of us left behind, there is, in most cases, probably nothing more we could have done.

For those bereaved by suicide, the loss is great. A loss as great as any other death, arguably more so in some circumstances. Those left behind may feel betrayed. They may feel angry with the person who has taken their own life. All the love they gave them. All the time and effort they spent. All the worry and suffering they went through… and then they did that.

Such feelings are natural and normal.

Many deaths leave unanswered questions. When the loss is through suicide, especially if is there is no note or explanation, the unanswered questions may always remain just that, unanswered. That is a heavy cross to bear.

The pain will last and the healing may take a long time. The good memories remain but the loss is deeply felt. Everybody’s journey through grief is different – we all react in different ways and the way one person deals with it is different from another. The methods one uses to deal with such loss will be different and what works for one person doesn’t mean to say that it will work for (or needs to be used by) another person. Grief impacts people in different ways but that too will be different and is not necessarily the same for each. Within all of that, each journey is a valid one and to be respected.

Help for those who have been bereaved by suicide is available at Survivors of Bereavement by Suicide

Help for those experiencing suicidal thoughts is available through The Samaritans or by contacting emergency medical services.

Woman from Samaria (1) – Prejudice

Woman from SamariaWhile the story of Nicodemus tells us that his initial encounter was deliberate, planned and at night, the woman from Samaria meets Jesus by chance (or so she thinks) in the heat of the day. Two encounters with the Lord. One a well-schooled and respected pillar of the community. The other, possibly, poorly educated and, seemingly, socially ostracised. What can they possibly have in common?

Please read John 4:3-7a

This wasn’t Jesus’ only encounter with people from Samaria. He was turned away from a Samaritan village (Luke 9:51-56) and out of ten people with leprosy who he healed, the only one to say thank you was a Samaritan (Luke 17:16).

In John’s lengthy account (the whole passage is John 4:1-42), we initially observe a very ordinary, domestic scene. Fetching water was normally done in cool of the morning or the evening. It was a community event where local women would gather to talk and to be together. Yet, this unnamed woman comes alone to the well in the heat of the midday sun. She meets a man who, much to her surprise, crosses all the normal social and human barriers of the time. In this encounter, Jesus challenges prejudices against foreigners, people of other beliefs, and women.

Firstly, he is in Samaria – a ‘no-go’ area for Galileans to travel through. Undeterred, Jesus crosses a barrier to reach out to a foreigner. Secondly, while the faith of the Samaritans has its origins in Judaism it rejects much of the Hebrew Bible and their worship takes place on nearby Mount Gerizim rather than in the Judean Temple in Jerusalem, some 40 miles away from where this encounter takes place. Here at the well, Jesus crosses the barrier to those with a different set of beliefs. Thirdly, Jesus crossed the gender barrier. Rabbis were forbidden from talking to women in public – let alone teaching them and a woman could find herself being divorced if she was seen speaking to a strange man. Jesus’ love not only crosses barriers but it also reaches far beyond those surface issues upon which such prejudicial attitudes are built.

Just like Nicodemus, whose position of respectability hid an inner confusion and need for direction, behind these outward barriers the woman from Samaria is unaccepted and has a deep need to be loved. She is a moral outcast. She has had five husbands and is now with a man who is not her husband. Whether she was repeatedly widowed or divorced (or a combination), we don’t know but there is something about her which means she keeps herself safe from ridicule by walking alone at a different time of day. She feels ashamed. She has no sense of pride.

The woman at the well is a victim of prejudice. But in her encounter with Jesus, she encounters the love of God which crosses barriers and challenges prejudices.

We all have prejudices. Opinions and views, sometimes favourably inclined but more often than not, not so. Prejudices are usually, if not always, based on very little evidence or actual experience. We judge people – indeed whole groups of people – based on a few ill-informed or unfortunate occurrences.

It can be helpful to recognise our own prejudices. Some may be quite innocuous and frivolous but others can be more deep seated. We may need to consider how we take down the barriers that have been erected between ourselves and other people.

What are your prejudices? Why not make a list of them.

How might you overcome the barriers they have created?

 

 

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