It’s one of my perennial Lenten and Easter questions. Why does Judas one of history’s greatest traitors? Here’s where my well-informed readers will tell me, “He turned Jesus in for thirty pieces of silver. Judas is like Benedict Arnold.” (The words in quotes are to be read in a less than flattering voice.) Yes, you are correct. Judas ratted out our Lord and Savior. Riddle me this, Bible readers, wasn’t that the plan? Jesus was supposed to die at Passover. Clues that someone was going to betray Jesus are littered throughout John’s gospel-like seagull poop. Jesus knew betrayal was his way into the hands of both the Roman and Jewish authorities. Some scholars posit that he even planned his betrayal with Judas. Someone had to do it. Yes, if we accept the narrative which has dominated Christian tradition for two thousand years, you don’t get Easter without a Judas. So why do we beat up on Judas and turn in him to money stealing thief whose misplaced priorities only come to light just before Jesus’ final Passover?
I know why. Every good story needs a villain. John, whose lesson most of us will read this weekend, is a poetic anti-Semite who decides to make Judas his boogeyman. Count me out, John. I will not play your blame game. It all sounds like a weird setup for a scapegoat, especially when the plan calls for a scapegoat. Aren’t we better than this? I would hope so, but I know we’re not. We are only as good as the lectionary allows us to be. We’ll follow the script and go along to get along. That’s what we do. We’d instead follow John’s dialogue to the letter than consider the consequences of atonement without Judas. How will we feel morally superior and self-righteous about ourselves when he scolds Mary about the use of the perfume? Who will we hate and blame for Jesus’ death? It can’t be our fault. We create modern day Judas’: immigrants, racial minorities, people of different sexual orientations, and the list goes on and on. Of course, let’s find new people who we can label as betrayers of Jesus. Then we can keep living in our castles of denominational happiness, washed in the blood of the lamb we didn’t kill. We never take own up to our sin. Sound familiar? Spoiler alert: I call this mainline Protestantism in the United States of America.
We will say anything and find anyone to absolve ourselves of responsibility of in Jesus’ execution. Like alcoholics who have yet to hit bottom, we will blame everyone but ourselves: it is Jesus, the Romans, or the Temple authority’s guilt. No, it is not the case. Because we were afraid to die, we denied knowing the one thing we could never forget. It’s on us. We killed Jesus. Judas is an innocent man.
Richard Lowell Bryant