“I am Judas”
Sermon for Good Friday
In the annals of history, there are names that echo evil through the generations – names that have become synonymous with wickedness:
Adolph Hitler. Attila the Hun. Benedict Arnold. Jeffrey Dahmer. Timothy McVeigh. Osama bin Laden.
There are people who evoke such images of evil, that just mentioning the name alone is enough to set a room full of people on edge. For all the wrong reasons, these are names that we will never forget. And through history, few names have carried a stronger sense of evil than Judas. Not a decade later, not a century later, but two thousand years later, just his name is an insult. To call someone a “Judas” is to say that that person is the lowest of the low – absolutely the worst sort of person.
There have been kings and generals who have been brutal and cruel. There have been politicians who have lied and broken promises. There have been serial killers who murder countless strangers just for the fun of it – but none of them seems to have the staying power of Judas in our imagination of evil. In fact, there are other characters in the Bible who share his name, Judas, but you can’t tell by looking at an English Bible – in both the Hebrew and the Greek, the names Judah and Jude are exactly the same as Judas; but we don’t want to tarnish them with the name of “Judas”, so we spell it a little differently in English.
If we can say nothing else good about people, at least they aren’t as bad as Judas.
He was one of the chosen twelve – Jesus’ inner circle, his closest friends. And he betrayed him. He seems to have believed that Jesus was the Messiah, God’s anointed one, and he turned him over to the authorities. It doesn’t get any lower than that.
The story has been told for countless generations, by countless different people, and the emphasis is always the same. Judas killed Jesus.
There is nothing worse that you could do than be “a Judas.” Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John are all perfectly clear: It was Judas’ fault.
Today, on this day of the crucifixion, I wonder if we haven’t been a little harsh on Judas. Think about it for a moment – Judas was one of the twelve. I wonder if Judas expected that his actions would turn out very differently. To be clear, I don’t know what he thought – no one tells us. But I wonder.
Maybe he thought that talking to the authorities would force the issue – give Jesus a chance to really show his power. After all, they had seen the crowds gather around Jesus when he entered into Jerusalem, perhaps they would again. I don’t know.
But it is clear – at least to me – that Judas did not expect what happened. He didn’t expect the flogging. He didn’t expect the humiliation. And he certainly didn’t expect the painful death on the cross.
And, in some ways, I think we have all been there. We have all done and said things that have had unintended consequences – outcomes that we never imagined, results that we never expected from our actions.
As is often the case, when I was in high school, my parents and I did not always get along. Actually I was a real jerk – I had all the answers, and my parents just got in my way. And I remember the day ….
The words came out of my mouth, and I wished I could take them back as soon as they started floating through the air. “I hate you!” I yelled at them. I could see on their faces what my words did to them – the heartache and pain that I caused them. And now, with a child of my own, I really know the hurt that I caused my parents. I wish I could go back and change it.
But far too often, we can’t see beyond the end of our noses. We give no thought – or we give too little thought – to the consequences of our actions. We may consider how our actions affect us personally, but then we stop. But the truth is that everything we do and say has consequences.
In the time just before a service, I often find myself in my own little world. Thinking about the service, thinking about my sermon, thinking about the liturgy, thinking about any meetings I might have that day. One Sunday, I was in just such a state about ten minutes before a service began. I was in the sacristy – the little room off to the side of the altar – when the acolyte came in. The young person, not yet in confirmation, asked me a question about God – I don’t remember exactly what the question was, but I remember that it was the sort of question that scholars write volumes trying to answer.
In my Sunday morning trance, I gave some dismissive answer, and went on about my preparations. Months later, I learned that the child had gone home devastated by my rude answer.
Everything we do, everything we say has consequences.
Everything we do and everything we say affects everyone around us – often in ways that we least expect … but then again, since we usually don’t even give the consequences a second thought, of course we don’t expect them.
I don’t think Judas fully realized the consequences of his actions, and maybe we are too hard on him.
But, if I am going to be totally honest with you, my real reason for saying that we are too hard on Judas is entirely selfish.
You see, I am Judas. Yes, I am Judas.
Judas’ sin was betraying Jesus. Judas knew of Jesus’ great love, he knew of his power and compassion, and yet Judas betrayed Jesus, and caused his death. And I am Judas. In fact, you are Judas, too.
Every time we fail to love as Jesus has loved us, we betray him. I am Judas.
Every time we allow people to suffer, we betray him. I am Judas.
Every time we choose our self-interests and pride instead of the good of everyone around us, we betray him. I am Judas.
Every time we react in anger and hatred, we betray him. I am Judas.
And we are blind to the real consequences of our betrayal. It is easy to blame Judas for the death of Jesus – he lived two thousand years ago, and I’ve never met the guy.
But Jesus died to forgive us from our sins – on that cross, Jesus bore our sins. Our sins, our betrayal, put Jesus on the cross. And so, I am Judas.
That is the consequence of our thoughtlessness. That is the consequence of our hurtfulness. That is the consequence of how we treat others. With our actions, with our words, we have prepared a cross for our savior. Truth be told, if that were the end of the story I would be tempted to join Judas in finding the tallest tree and a length of rope. But it is not the end of the story.
On the cross, we hear the voice of Love that says to us, “Yes, you are Judas. And I love you still.
“You cannot be too evil for my love.
“You cannot do anything that I cannot redeem.
“I know the consequences of your words and deeds, and I will not stop loving you.”
On the cross, Love says, “There is nothing, not even these nails and this cross, that can separate me from you.”
And so, today, Good Friday, we look at the cost of our sin. We look at the very real consequences of our thoughtless words and actions.
We know that we are Judas.
As we go back out into the world, we try to show to everyone we meet the same Love that has spoken to us from the cross.