Learning from... Judas? | Wisdom Wednesday
Before you get worried, let me just say that, no, I'm not suggesting we imitate Judas' behavior. Even though Judas' betrayal of Jesus played an essential role in the fulfillment of Scripture, Jesus is pretty clear in the Gospel reading at today's Mass that "it would be better for that man if he had never been born."
We can still learn from Judas though. His many mistakes are laid out in such a way as to call out to us, to convict us, to remind us of ourselves. How many times have we denied or betrayed Jesus? How many times have we acted innocent while conscious of our guilt? "Surely it is not I, Rabbi?" Worse, how many times have we, convicted of our guilt, withdrawn from Jesus the way Judas does in this picture? Finally, how many times have we, remorseful of our selfishness, or our greed, or our unkindness, despaired of Jesus' endless mercy?
There are so many ways this could have turned out. As soon as Jesus said the words,
He who has dipped his hand into the dish with me
is the one who will betray me.
The Son of Man indeed goes, as it is written of him,
but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed.
It would be better for that man if he had never been born. (Matthew 26:23-25)
Judas could have broken down, confessed what he had done, and wept to Jesus. And while the rest of the twelve would have turned on him, Jesus would have held them back and would have forgiven Judas. Jesus would have told him that what was done was done, that it was necessary to go to the Mount of Olives in anticipation of his arrest anyway, but that he was forgiven.
Judas also could have taken Jesus aside on the way to the Mount of Olives and confessed. He would have been forgiven.
After returning his 30 pieces of silver (because yes, Judas truly regretted what he did), he could have shown up at the Way of the Cross or even at the foot of the Cross and confessed, joining John and Mary as the only people brave enough to be present at their own risk.
Even if he did none of these things, he could have remembered Jesus' mercy, and had confidence in his forgiveness. Instead, he took his own life. He despaired of Jesus' mercy, which is probably the worst thing we can do for our own souls. It's only at that darkest point when we think that God doesn't love us, that we totally and finally reject God.
Now, I don't know if Judas is in Hell or not. It's certainly suggested that he is, but we really have no way of knowing. Judas could have regretted his suicide as he was comitting it. He could have been driven mad with his grief and remorse. We don't know. We do know that he felt totally separate from God after a greedy mistake and let himself be sucked into the separation, and that's a horrible (and avoidable) point to get.
So what can we learn from him?
- Relate to him, first of all. Have mercy on Judas, because though he is remembered by history as being totally evil (while Jesus probably pitied him), he did feel remorse, and it was at least a little brave of him to recant to the Sanhedrin and return the silver he had been given. They laughed in his face, of course, but we all make gestures of remorse that seem meaningful to us and don't really make up for what has happened.
- Second, reflect on all the many points where Judas could have turned back to Jesus. When situations feel hopeless and we feel ashamed and stuck in our sin, Jesus is just waiting for us to turn back to him. There is never a point where he won't welcome us. Remember that, and realize that wherever you are right now, it's probably not as bad as the situation Judas found himself in. If we can look at the text and objectively say Judas still probably could have been redeemed at certain points, then you can certainly be redeemed wherever you are right now.
- Third, have mercy on yourself. Judas wasn't able to understand Jesus' mercy and therefore wasn't able to have mercy on himself. Jesus told us to love our neighbor as ourselves, so we should extend at least as much mercy to ourselves as we do to other people.
God loves you, whoever and wherever you are! Blessed Holy Week.