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.

Martha & Mary (1) – Distraction

Martha & MaryWhile some of the stories in A Story to Tell are more difficult to fully relate to, although we do have a choice whether or not to learn from all of them, the story of Martha and Mary at home is probably the most ordinary, domestic incident to be found in the Gospels.

We’ve all been there, haven’t we, either as guest or in receiving guests. Some people sit chatting away, while others… well, you know how it is.

Please read Luke 10:38-42

Are you like Martha? Or are you like Mary?

Many people would say they want to be more like Mary – taking time to sit and listen to Jesus, to talk to him, to spend time with him, to get to know him. To give Jesus intentional attention. And yet, most of us probably feel much more comfortable being like Martha – being busy, doing things, being distracted, giving ourselves a sense of purpose, playing a role.

It’s often the case that when someone comes around for a meal one person looks after the cooking while someone else talks to the guest. And this happens here – Martha, in whose house this takes place, carries on getting everything ready while her younger sister, Mary, sits with Jesus, their guest.

Yet, in the heat of the kitchen, Martha is getting more and more uptight. ‘Oh no, the guests are waiting, the veg are ready but the fish isn’t… and there’s Mary, my sister, not helping at all… she’s just sat there talking to him.’ Martha’s angry and stressed. She needs help and the others are ignoring her.

One can imagine her storming out: ‘Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.’ And bear in mind, we don’t know what else was said either! (This isn’t the only time when Jesus has incurred Martha’s anger, by the way. When their brother Lazarus was dying, she sent for Jesus and made it quite clear how unhappy she was that he hadn’t come sooner – see John 11:21.)

Like Martha, we are often concerned about so much and worried and upset about many things – lots of them quite understandable. But let’s not forget Mary either. Maybe she is also in need of someone to help her: perhaps through her conversation she is wanting and receiving help. There was a reason why Mary needed to talk with Jesus.

This incident is one that challenges us to consider our priorities. Busyness will often crowd out God and it crowds out other people too. It distracts us from being with God and being with others. It distracts from spending time talking, listening and praying. Yet that very busyness, those tasks which need to be done, is also important. Without paying attention to those things, God’s work in our day to day lives would not be carried out. But how do we achieve the balance?

The events in Martha’s home help us to think about meeting God in the ordinary. And yet there is that very human inclination to ‘just do’ something else before we spend time in prayer and Bible reading. How do we have fulfilling and blessed times talking and listening to God when we too are ‘distracted by so many things’?

Whether we are like Mary, sat at the feet of Jesus, or like Martha, carrying out the ordinary tasks of life, God is present in all things and at all times so we can be in his presence in all things and at all times.

God cannot do the extraordinary things in life without the ordinary things in life.

In what ways do you see God in all things?



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

Mary & Joseph (2) – Finding

Mary & JosephWhen my son was about four years old, he was playing in the street with his friends. At one point I couldn’t see him so assumed he’d gone to one of the other children’s homes – it was that type of street. It was safe. A bit later on, I looked out again – no, still not there. I called around to his friends but they didn’t know where he was. The worry began to kick in – where on earth was he? What’s happened to him? Then, after what seemed an eternity but in reality was probably only a few minutes, there he was coming down the street. Alone and crying. We ran towards each other and I picked him up: “I didn’t know where you were.” His reply was priceless: “But Daddy, I didn’t know where I was either.”

Please read Luke 2.41-52

This is a significant event – a sort of ‘coming of age’: a rite of passage for the young Christ. While there were other 12 year-olds who went to the Temple to be questioned by the teachers, Jesus knew he was different. It may be that he has been told by Mary and Joseph about his miraculous conception, the flight to Egypt and the visit of the travellers but inwardly he knew this was not just the Temple: it was his Heavenly Father’s house.

Having spent family time in Jerusalem for the festival of the Passover, Joseph and Mary are setting off home to Nazareth – a journey of about 120 miles. This was a time when families and travellers intermingled with ease and without fear, being looked after and fed by others. It’s also fair to speculate that their other children, being younger, probably distracted them from realising the absence of the eldest. At the evening stopping point, they started to look for Jesus among the others who were with them.

‘Oh, no! We’ve lost the Messiah!’

So, they set off back to Jerusalem – a day’s walk and three whole days pass before they actually find him. Can you imagine losing someone (or being lost) for three whole days? Bad enough when it’s three whole minutes.

And when they do find him, their reaction is natural: ‘Child…’ (Oh dear, watch out Jesus, you are in big, big trouble.) ‘Child, why have you treated us like this?’ they said. ‘Look…’ (another ‘the parents are really angry’ word), ‘Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety.’ (Don’t you love the sanitised version Luke gives us!)

You get the drift. We’ve all been there (either as seeker or sought for). There’s the relief at finding someone safe mixed, as it so often is, with anger. In the heat of the moment, though, Mary and Joseph appear to forget just who their son is. They don’t understand why he was in the Temple; why he was sat talking with the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions.

Joseph and Mary responded like many parents would do. Jesus’ response is that of a 12 year-old going on 15: ‘Why were you searching for me? Didn’t you know I’d be here?’ Duh.

Tongue in cheek? Maybe. And while we can’t impose 21st century, Western adolescent behaviours on to 1st century Middle Eastern culture, such events, not for the only time, remind us that Jesus was both fully human and fully divine. Why shouldn’t he react like other 12 year-olds?

The Holy Family are a human family. This incident shows us that there are times when being holy is perhaps not that different from simply being human.

No doubt, once the emotions had settled down, the anger calmed, and a few sorries had been said, Jesus increased in wisdom and divine and human favour, as Luke’s Gospel puts it. And while it may not have felt like it at the time, Mary, and not forgetting Joseph also, would indeed have treasured these things in their hearts.

In our ordinary day to day lives we, like Joseph and Mary, will spend time with other people; we, like Mary and Joseph, will be distracted by many things; and how easy it is for us, like them, to lose the Messiah in the midst of it.

And yet all the time, what a great assurance it is to know that Jesus always knows where he is – and that place includes being right with us in all our distracted seeking.

Looking back over your last few days (or longer if you wish), and reflecting on the events and distractions of your life, in what ways were you looking for Jesus? Did you know where he was?

Or did you come to this story and think, ‘I didn’t know where I was either.’