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Rethinking the Jesus/Judas Storyline

The Jesus/Judas storyline has been told and re-told so many times that it can be difficult to separate fact from fiction. The Gospel writers put so much emphasis on Judas’ betrayal that it can be difficult to discern the friendship that must have existed in order for them to come together so closely in the first place.

Imagine your closest friend — someone you’ve known forever. And, then think about a difficult period in your friendship. Maybe you said or did something that really hurt your friend. Or, maybe they did or said something that really hurt you. But you got past it. You moved beyond it.

Now imagine that someone retells the story of your deepest friendship. But they skip over all the lovely parts, all the ways you supported one another, all the ways you enjoyed life together and concentrated solely on the hurt that shifted the course of the friendship. Would that be a fair portrayal no matter how hurt you or your friend may be?

I want to rethink the Jesus/Judas storyline from a different point of view. Moving beyond the label of “murderer” or “betrayer,” I want to see if there’s something deeper for us to discern from their friendship that may not be obvious from the traditional approach to their friendship.

At the end, you do not have to accept my point of view. I only ask you what my spiritual teacher, Rev. Della, asked me: “Have you thought about it this way?”

Is There Another Way to See Judas?

Like all the disciples, Judas gave up everything to follow Jesus. When you study the verses that pertain to Judas, you grasp someone who had an obvious sophistication and intelligence. It is likely that he had to give up far more than the other disciples in order to follow Jesus. Yet, as John MacArthur points out in Twelve Ordinary Men, Judas is “the most notorious and universally scorned of all the disciples…His name appears last in every biblical list of apostles, except for the list in Acts 1, where it doesn’t appear at all. Every time Judas is mentioned in Scripture, we also find a notation about his being a traitor.”

Have you ever questioned this portrayal of Judas? What would happen if you moved beyond the narrator’s portrayal of Judas to see someone that Jesus felt comfortable enough to put in charge of the money? As a minister, I can tell you that I did not (and would not) choose someone I could not trust to be in charge of the money. And, I cannot name a minister who would knowingly put a thief and a traitor in charge of the money. My guess is that you won’t be able to come up with a name either.

Now, if we would not choose someone with questionable ethics to handle the money, why do we believe that Jesus — who had a superior understanding of human psychology — intentionally choose someone whose behavior might spell the end of his movement before it even began? If you want to change the world, you make choices that set you up for success, not failure.

Perhaps we need to look at Judas in a different light.

No One Knew Who Would Betray Jesus

None of the Gospels is an eyewitness account. Yet, our religious conditioning is so complete that we cannot hear the voice of the narrator walking us through the story. When we find the name Judas and the word “betrayer” always follows it, we accept it as a foregone conclusion as opposed to an opinion of the story’s narrator.

Consider this: “When Jesus, at that last supper in the upper room, said that one of the disciples would betray Him, instead of saying, “Who is it? Who would do such a thing?” they simply and meekly said, “Is it I, Lord? Is it I?” (Butterworth) If the other disciples considered Judas a potential betrayer, then Jesus’ announcement may have resulted in a Tyler Perry-esque moment where everyone turns to look in his direction.

But that is not what happened.

The people who lived with Judas while they studied with Jesus did not see him the way the narrator presents him. In fact, they each suspected themselves and worried that maybe one of them may have to play the role that none wanted to play.

Is it possible that Judas is not the despicable character we have been told he was? Is there room in your mind to see him as someone who made a poor choice that cost him everything — a choice that led to a series of consequences that he may not have intended?

Maybe Judas Intended a Different Result

You do not give up everything to follow someone unless that person awakens a zeal in your heart. In the Hebrew mind, there was a belief that God would soon intervene in the course of history and establish his kingdom on earth. When you get a charismatic teacher like Jesus who heals the sick, causes the blind to see, makes the lame to walk, compels the deaf to hear and the dumb to speak, it is not a far leap to see why someone with Judas’ sophistication would forsake everything to follow him.

Metaphysically, the “Satan” that enters Judas when the bread is passed to him by Jesus is the “ruling force of human consciousness” — what we might call the ego mind that can only think in material terms. Like the other disciples, Judas likely didn’t understand the spiritual nature of Jesus’ kingdom. Unfortunately, “the result was a materialistic and God-excluded plan, unwise, and completely inconsistent with Jesus’ goals” (Butterworth).

Have you ever made a choice, thinking that you were following or supporting the advice of your mentor, only to discover in the end that you misunderstood the mentor’s words entirely? I have.

Perhaps when Jesus told Judas, “You are the one,” he conceived his plan. “Sure — why not? I will simply betray Jesus to the Romans. This will force Him to use His powers in His own defense. I have seen evidence of that power used for others. This will spur Him to action, before it is too late.” That Jesus, even under the shadow of Roman torture and death, would refuse to invoke the wrath of God upon His persecutors, probably never occurred to the worldly-minded Judas” (Butterworth).

Judas Was Just Like Jesus

Most Christians carry the image of Judas as an evil and depraved man…beyond redemption.

Stop for a moment. Do not forget that “like attracts like.” Something in Judas had to match something in Jesus in order for them to be in the same space. Judas occupied a prominent role in Jesus’ inner circle.

We most resemble the people we keep closest to us. Perhaps Judas symbolizes us when we do not think our plans all the way through. Perhaps he didn’t calculate the possibility that his choice would spell the death of his beloved Master Teacher.

Have you ever made a choice that led to a set of unintended consequences?

We place so much attention on this one choice that Judas has borne the stigma of it throughout time. Does that seem reasonable to you? Would you want to be judged for your worst mistake without any consideration given to all the other choices you made in your life? Is that a theological position you believe you can hold in a spiritual practice steeped in compassion?

Something of Judas Lies In Each of Us

“There is something of Judas in you and me, and it is a very real influence in our lives. We believe in the things of the Spirit, but we desire the things of the flesh. Though we are all divine in potential, yet we often act the part of our  humanity. We frustrate our potentialities. We conceal our innate goodness. Thus we betray the Christ for the gratification of human desires” (Butterworth).

Consider the lesson of Jesus’ response to Judas. He never condemned Judas. The narrator of the story and the communities who studied Jesus’ life after his death may have condemned Judas. But you will never find a condemning word for Judas on the lips of Jesus.

That means something.

Consider also that Jesus did not attempt to circumvent the set of events Judas set in motion with his choice. He absolutely could have avoided capture as he had many times before. We find many passages in the Scripture that speak explicitly to Jesus’ ability to miss the evil others intend.

So, why allow himself to be “caught” this time? Perhaps there was a larger story unfolding and Judas only had a role to play — a role that no one in history would want to play, but only someone close to Jesus could play.

Metaphysically, Judas represented the sense consciousness, which must take itself out before the ultimate demonstration over circumstances can be made. Before you can ascend to higher heights, you must release your belief in and attachment to the lower level of life. You cannot have the greater and the lesser; you must choose.

In order for the Christ in you to manifest more fully, the Judas in you must fall away under the weight of its own false belief. This is not a one-time process but a cycle you move through every time you seek to come up a little higher.

My Call to Action for You

What part of you seeks the outer show of force? That’s the part of you that must “killed off.” That’s the part of you that must die under the weight of its own false belief. Anything that lasts must unfold according to spiritual law. Unless I AM builds the house, they labor in van.

There are circumstances in your life that you have the ability right now to rise above…to demonstrate over. But the Judas consciousness that believes in the material reality must die. Are you willing to let your closest held beliefs fall away in order to move into a higher level of living and being? If you’re ready, then say so!

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