There has been some debate stirred over the discovery/translation of ‘The Gospel of Judas‘. For those of you who haven’t read The Complex Christ (and why not?! Buy it here, now!), I wanted to outline some of my thoughts on Judas from the book.
We are often encouraged to meditate on characters from Scripture. To put ourselves in their place. To imagine we are Peter, by the fire, denying Christ, catching his eye, being re-instated. But Judas has traditionally been totally off limits. He is unredeemable. He betrayed Jesus. He is to be rubbished, spat on, despised, forgotten.
But I think he is closer to home than we might at first imagine. Judas was probably the most educated of the disciples. He was one of the few not from ‘up North’, and likely saw himself as a cut above, a bit special. He was the only one given a task: to take care of the money, and we can imagine he probably earned that by being more numerate. It is also thought he was likely to be a bit of a Zealot. He probably saw Jesus’ mission – as most did – as a political one. Jesus would rise up against the Romans and chuck them out, restoring sovereignty to Israel.
Judas would doubtless have heard that the authorities were looking for a way to trap Jesus. They had also said that they didn’t want him arrested over the festival, because they feared that after his triumphant entry to Jerusalem the people would riot. Perhaps Judas spots an opportunity. He will go to them, offer to betray Jesus, and persuade them that he can only do it now – over the festival. Perhaps he hopes this will cause a riot, and thus catalyze Jesus into his political takeover.
Judas attends the Last Supper. And when Jesus hands him a piece of bread – his ‘body broken’ – Judas leaves. Why did he leave then? Perhaps because he was the only one to understand the huge significance of what Jesus was doing in that first act of communion. If Jesus is going to die and become transcendent, he will slip through his political hands. The Complex Christ – dispersed, viral, networked – cannot be controlled. And he must stop this happening.
So he goes to the authorities. They convene hurriedly and agree to his plan. They go to find Jesus, and a crowd follow them – excellent! He approaches Jesus and kisses him. Perhaps he thinks Jesus will be pleased – he is offering him his golden opportunity on a plate to begin his political mission. Things start brilliantly: a fight breaks out, and swords are drawn… Then disaster – Jesus commands them all to stop. He submits, is led away, given a mock trial and killed, his followers dispersed. He has failed.
We know Judas was distraught. We know he threw the money back, and committed suicide. He repented.
So who is this Judas I never knew? It is me. It is you. Whenever we try to co-opt God into our own programmes, box God up and decide for God what God is going to do, when we kiss Christ, but more in lust for power than love of the Other, we are playing Judas, and betraying this complex Christ who will not be controlled.
So whenever we are offered bread and wine we must reflect on this choice that Judas had. To allow Christ this dangerous and free mission, or try to channel him into our own agenda. And as we take, eat and drink, we must commit to that holy freedom of God, and pray for the Judas in each of to be redeemed.