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.

NEW: The Uncondemned Woman (2) – Absolved*

After things had gone wrong, the words I wrote had meant well. It was written from the heart. I asked for forgiveness and it offered forgiveness. It was responded to with condemnation. It was not the response I had expected.

‘Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. Jesus straightened up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, sir.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again.”’ (John 8:9b-11)

As elsewhere, on many, many occasions, Jesus’ concern is shown, as one writer put it, not with the law but with people, their own integrity and their relation to God. We see here, as Paul described it, ‘the gentleness of Christ’ (2 Cor 10:1).

As well as the encounter with the woman from Samaria we can compare this incident with another woman judged by others to be sinful (see Luke 7:36-50 – and as an aside, the woman in that incident is not, as was mistakenly thought for hundreds of years, Mary Magdalene or the one involving Mary of Bethany).

Jesus’ words to the woman, ‘Neither do I condemn you’ reflect once again that he did not come in to the world to condemn it but to save it.

And yet, she is forever remembered as the woman caught in adultery: forever labelled by her mistake.

Surely there is much more value in remembering her as the uncondemned woman? As the woman who was saved from death by Jesus. As the woman, who like many others, would have a story to tell about her encounter with the Son of God and how she received a response she did not expect.

Pope John Paul II said this encounter between the woman and Jesus shows us that: ‘In whatever condition we find ourselves, we can always open ourselves to conversion and receive forgiveness for our sins.’

If you are a regular churchgoer, you will I am sure be familiar with the saying of a prayer of confession at the beginning of each service. Thankfully, we can come to God to ask forgiveness at any time of day (or night!). Time to acknowledge when the beam in our own eye is so big that it hits other people in the face. Time to acknowledge those things which are ‘distance creators’ between us and God. Time to ask God for forgiveness for those things we believe are unforgivable.

Many of us condemn ourselves for the mistakes we made (as I imagine this particular woman did also). Sometimes it doesn’t need anyone else, let alone God, to add to that condemnation.

In God’s love and mercy, the intention is not that we will be remembered for what we did wrong or the mistakes we made (although, alas, it is inevitable that some will be). The intention is that we will be remembered for knowing we are not condemned and that we too can go on our way and endeavour not to sin again.

 

Are there aspects of your life about which you feel the need for forgiveness?

 

Thomas (1) – Doubting

Doubting ThomasBut what if Jesus hadn’t come back to life after all?

Please read John 20: 24-25

What do you have doubts about? The Virgin Birth? The Resurrection? The turning of water in to wine? Prayer being answered? The very existence of God in a world of war, hatred, corruption, injustice, accidents, illness, terrorism, abuse…?

Or doubts about God having sent is only son so that you – yes, you – might have eternal life? That you are loved? That you are loved by God?

Everyone has doubts – be that about matters of faith and belief, work and family, marriage and parenting, friendships and relationships, money and housing, health and illness, life and death… you name it, we have doubts about it.

Thomas was one of Jesus’ closest friends. A dedicated companion. Going everywhere and seeing everything. Thomas was one who sought to understand who Jesus was and what his purpose was. Asking questions when Lazarus was reported dead (John 11:16) and again in the minutes that followed Judas’ departure from the Last Supper (John 14:1-6). Three years spent in such company. And yet despite all that, we might say, he had doubts.

Not unlike others we have considered (such as Mary Magdalene and Judas Iscariot) , he too has been attributed a negative connotation: ‘Doubting Thomas’. Sometimes used derogatively towards those who don’t believe or agree with what others might be proposing, the phrase even has its own dictionary definitions: ‘an incredulous or habitually doubtful person’ (Merriam-Webster); ‘a person who insists on proof before he or she will believe anything; sceptic’ (Collins). And yet we can learn a lot from Thomas.

Left unaddressed or unresolved, doubts can become all-consuming. They have the power to erode away confidence in our ability to make decisions. To the extent that we never make any at all. We can also find ourselves holding on to doubts even with the greatest evidence to the contrary. Paradoxically, having doubts can be one thing we can be certain about.

Having doubts is part of the human condition and as well as matters to do with faith and belief, they are an important element in the making of wise decisions. Doubts are part of the checks and balances we need in life. We will have doubts about the new job we’ve started, or whether the person we wish to marry is the ‘right one’, or about God’s calling to a vocation, to name just a few. Having doubts can help us to discern both God’s will and our own, and they enable us to ask and to answer questions. If we are 100% certain about something really important then we may just be deceiving ourselves or perhaps choosing to ignore some inconvenient truths. As Thomas was to discover for himself, having doubts can be helpful.

Having doubts plays an important part in becoming the person we want to be and God wants us to be. Uncomfortable as they may be at times, be thankful for your doubts. Acknowledge them. And challenge them. Ask God to show you the part they play in discerning what he is saying.

Write a list of those things – anything you like: faith, life, work, whatever – which cause you to have doubts.

 

 

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