Jesus’s disciple, Judas Iscariot, has been known as his betrayer for millennia. The gospels of Luke and John would have us believe that the reason that Judas betrayed Jesus was because Satan had entered Judas. Matthew and Mark leave us to our own interpretation of Judas’s actions. The gospel of Judas would have us believe that Judas was acting as Jesus directed him. Whichever explanation you lean toward, as Jesus’s life played out to the end, ultimately, Judas was the hand that placed Jesus into the custody of those who would scourge and crucify him, the activity necessary for our salvation, according to all the gospels.
A third way of understanding Judas is to observe his love for Jesus. We could consider that Judas believed in the “Warrior Messiah,” the prophets of Hebrew Scriptures portended. It was a Warrior Messiah the Jews of the time expected, one who would crush the Romans and build the new Jerusalem. In the end, Judas was wrong. The vast majority of Jews were wrong, according to Christians. In fact, most Jews still await the coming of the messiah. For Christians, God did not send a Warrior Messiah. God sent a Messiah who would be the salvation of all humanity. At the same time he would consummate the old covenant and invest a new one. For God had sent prophets whose words were not heeded throughout the old covenant. God needed a new covenant to reach out to those who would heed God’s call.
I submit that while Judas loved Jesus, he misunderstood him. And in his despair over his misunderstanding and betrayal, Judas couldn’t live with what he had done to the man he loved and hanged himself.
Today I will consider this third way: Judas cataclysmically misunderstood Jesus even though he loved whoever it was he thought the man to be.
How would that happen?
Can you love someone who is not who you think he or she really is?
Can you think something is true but be deluding yourself because you want it to be so?
Can you misread what you see before your very eyes and misinterpret everything?
How then can you know the difference between delusion and reality when facts can be so readily misinterpreted?
That’s what I want to delve into today.
We live in times where truth is in short supply. We have been bombarded with lies sold to the lowest bidders to decry as truth. We can’t even argue the facts because people without facts claim “I have a right to my opinion.” And civil respondents say, “okay, you have a right to your opinion.” But I say, “yes, you have a right to be a fool! Hold onto your lies and die ignorant. But don’t expect me to respect your opinions based on nothing.”
Over the last five years, we have witnessed men and women in national leadership positions who lie easily, and apparently believably, and without compunction. They affirm previously unsupported beliefs of people who have felt disenfranchised for years for those beliefs. These same seemingly disenfranchised people are entitled in ways people of color, immigrants, and queer people are not. Yet because they are shunned and excluded from polite society when they display their proud ignorance, hate-mongering, racism, nationalism, and conspiracy theories, they feel marginalized.
They are marginalized for a reason. You see, in order to maintain a civilized peaceful society it is necessary to marginalize the extremists on both sides of the spectrum to maintain civility. Let loose and given free reign these fringe extremists would destroy a civilization rather than face Truth and admit they are wrong, and they would do violence to hide their lie.
Zealots in the first century Roman empire were just such fringe extremists. They sought to destroy Greco-Roman civilization. Our fringe extremists today have the same purposes in mind.
What repulses me the most about some of these fringe extremists are the self-named Christian churches and their preachers who indulge in these fringe politics. Churches like Calvary Church of Bangor in Orrington Maine and its preacher, Ken Graves, Kingdom Life Church in Frisco, Texas and its preacher, Brandon Burden, and Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas, and its deceased preacher Fred Phelps.
They present themselves as Christian, spout Christian platitudes then indulge in fringe politics and hate speech and disinformation, they incite members to prepare to meet violence with violence. They choose to encourage the least in us rather than raise us up in the teachings of God through New Testament scripture.
What makes me right and them wrong? It’s these five simple tests for whether our beliefs and actions are of the God of Christ. They are:
- Are your actions examples of loving your neighbor as yourself and God with all your heart, mind, and strength?
- Are you seeking to serve rather than rule by your actions?
- Are your actions of creation or destruction? That is, are you building up or tearing down?
- Will you, metaphorically, be carrying a loaf of bread or a sword with your actions? And,
- have you prayed for God’s guidance, fasted, and meditated on your thoughts and actions?
If you are modeling love of neighbor and God, seeking to serve, creating and building up others, society, and the environment, feeding the hungry rather than committing violence, and have prepared yourself for God’s guidance then you are most likely following the principles of Christ.
Years ago, I saw a picture of a bomb being loaded onto a bomber during the Iraq war. A soldier had drawn a cross on it and had written “for Saddam Hussain” on it. I thought it a sign of betrayal of Christ’s death on just such a cross. Christ had transformed a symbol of violence into one of peace. And here a soldier returned it to violence.
Reinterpreting scripture to support our preferred beliefs rather than changing our beliefs to support scripture has been a favored pastime of less than honest individuals and religion for thousands of years. The long-term effects are evident in racism, religious wars, witch hunts, the suppression of science, and delay of progress for humanity by the Church for millennia. The result has been skepticism of religion and faith, and more recently the decline of what we call Mainline religion.
It is not surprising to realize that we prefer our worldviews to find support. We find comfort in our beliefs that we understand cause and effect. Whether our world views are true or not, is beside the point. We would rather shape the world to fit our worldviews than change our worldview to accommodate reality. People are change resistant, for the most part. Altering our worldviews would require us to change.
The advance of this new politic takes advantage of these human traits by feeding one sector of society supportive counter facts that they easily accept because they are comforting. It’s easier for us to understand, without convincing arguments for support, opinions that mirror our own.
For those of you who have attended institutions of higher learning. Have you ever noticed that if you write an essay that supports your professors’ opinions you are more likely to be understood and get a good grade than if you thoroughly lay out a counter argument to your professors’ opinions? That has been my experience, particularly in Seminary.
And just so, to change my mind you will have to thoroughly obliterate the walls my interpretations of experiences have built. I’m no different than those professors I challenged all those years ago. I consider myself to be open-minded in a very narrow-minded way.
We human beings live within a veil of ignorance according to the Kabbalah [an ancient Jewish tradition of mystical interpretation of the Bible]. To see through the veil we have to relinquish our attachment to our egos. The more we can detach from our egos the more clearly, we can allow ourselves to see.
In Mark’s gospel [5.21-43, Mt. 9.20-22, & Lk. 8.43-48] the story is told of a woman who had bled for twelve years. In juxtaposition to the bleeding woman, a leader of the synagogue, Jairus had a twelve-year-old daughter who lay dying. Both required Jesus at the same time. For those who saw within the veil Jesus had to choose one or the other. But the story shows a worldview beyond the veil where Jesus could heal both. And Jesus does just that.
Judas and those on Judas’s path interpret events with the ignorance that exists within the veil. Those on the path Jesus sets for us are able to interpret events with beyond the veil clarity.
We can seek various sources for the truth of facts. We can argue with others to seek enlightenment. We can select friends from a wide assortment of lifestyles, ethnicity, income levels, education levels, and various disciplines of learning and expertise. But until we relinquish our attachment to our egos and open ourselves to the influence of the Holy Spirit of God, our interpretation skills will still be limited to perceptions only within the veil of ignorance. And we can only hope for the closest thing to the truth. This is why there is an acceptance of truth being relative. It is extremely hard to see through the veil. Still, Truth is not relative. And any of us who think that is the case should be cautioned about the danger of such deceit to our relationships with ourselves, society, and our God.
The Gospel of John relates this story: “Pilate said to Jesus, ‘So you are a king, are you?’ Jesus answered, ‘You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I have come into the world, to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.’ Pilate said to him, ‘What is truth?’ After saying this, he went back out to the Jews and told them, ‘I find no guilt in him’” (John 18:37-38).
SimplyBible.com [ see: https://www.simplybible.com/f75c-pques-pilates-question-what-is-truth.htm ] hits the nail on the head when it explains the passage this way: “Pilate asked the question, ‘What is truth?’ It’s an easy question to ask, especially in the spirit in which Pilate asked it. But what is the answer?
“When Pilate heard Jesus speak of ‘truth’, he asked, ‘What is truth?’ It wasn’t an enquiry. He didn’t wait for an answer. He said it to justify himself. He went out to the mob, pronounced Jesus innocent, then had him flogged and handed over for crucifixion.
“Pilate apparently went along with the idea that truth is relative. For him it was ‘truth’ that Jesus was innocent, but for the Jews it was ‘truth’ that Jesus was guilty. So Pilate in all ‘fairness’ washed his hands and let the Jews follow their truth.
“So much for relative truth! A good man was crucified because in a mob’s version of ‘truth’ he was a criminal, and their truth was considered as valid as Pilate’s. Jesus is not the first victim of relative truth, nor the last.
“This notion that there is no universal truth is very dangerous. If all truth changes from person to person and from situation to situation, there is no firm ground, no reference point. There’s a valid contradiction for everything.
“Pilate found no fault in Jesus, but the mob said, ‘Crucify him!’ and Pilate found it expedient to hear that as a valid contradiction to what he believed to be true.”
So long as we believe we need to be in control of our worldview we will walk on the Judas path, a path that Pilate took easily because of the current politic of his society. Truth was relative in Rome. Jesus said he came to bear witness to the Truth. His actions bore out that claim. If only Judas and Pilate had carefully and honestly been able to see Jesus truly by Jesus’s actions, they could have seen the Truth. But they were too wrapped up in their own situations and beliefs to see clearly.
So long as we need to make others acquiesce to our beliefs, we are in danger of traveling on the Judas path. Quite often it is I who needs to see clearly. Quite often it is I who must change. Quite often it is I who needs to expand my worldview. Quite often it is I who must submit to the teachings of Christ and pray and meditate and fast so that I can be willing to let go of my ego and embrace the changes and opportunities life affords me through divine enlightenment.
It was Judas’s mistake that he thought he could influence Jesus’s path. It was his arrogance, his ego, that led him to think that he was right, and Jesus needed Judas to force Jesus’s hand to become the “Warrior Messiah”. Too many of us suffer from the same affliction. Too many of us follow the wrong leaders. Too many of us are satisfied with our own ignorance and are susceptible to manipulation because of it. To many of us would tear down civilization rather than adapt to the world as it really is. And too often, I am the fool who needs to reassess my worldview less I hold onto my lies and will die ignorant.
Did Judas love Jesus even though he didn’t understand him? I think he did. He loved the big and little things that Jesus did. Judas loved Jesus’s genuine love for others and Jesus’s faith and Jesus’s moments of intimate instruction. In Judas’s love he wanted Jesus to be who Judas thought he should be.
So, what about us? What about you? Can there be Truth that you don’t yet understand? Are you willing to set aside your preconceptions and explore what might really be true? Do you think you know the Truth about anything? Like what? Let me know your thoughts.