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This was not the way it was supposed to be.
It was an exhilarating few years.
I saw Jesus captivate the crowds with his teachings.
I saw his power – in miracles and even calming a raging storm.
He had authority over every disease, demon and even death.
I thought that he was the one who would bring the uprising, the one who would reform our religion, the one awaken us from apathy, and inspire in us a pure and fervent faith to rise up against our oppressors and restore us to a sovereign nation that can worship God again without foreign influences that have corrupted our identity, purpose, and practices as God’s chosen people.
He was the perfect leader, our Messiah, our King.
I believed in him.
I was ready to be a general in his army and die to bring the Kingdom of God.
I was a zealot.
Wasn’t that why he chose me?
When we entered Jerusalem, my heart swelled with anticipation.
The time has come. Jesus said so himself.
Any day now he was going to go public, to unite the people under his leadership, and the uprising would begin.
Yes, I’ve been embezzling money from the gifts we’ve gotten over the years, but that’s because the other disciples didn’t get it.
Every penny I took was given to my friends who were preparing for Jesus’ rise to power.
They believed in him too.
We were getting ready, building up the necessary arms and supplies.
I watched with awe as Jesus overturned tables at the temple. Yes, yes! He was upsetting the religious establishment that have been in cahoots with the Roman oppressors. He was going to restore a pure, fiery faith that God deserved – a holy army, single minded, disciplined and zealous.
But then he did a strange thing. He let a woman with a questionable reputation touch him. And she poured perfume on him that was worth a year’s wages. Heh – probably “wages” from her “job” seducing men. Just more corruption. Seeking pleasure instead of liberation. But Jesus appeared moved by her action. And what did he mean that she was preparing for his burial?
It just didn’t make sense.
I couldn’t wait any longer. It was time! The whole city had been roused with the arrival of Jesus. Everyone had come, especially the most fervent and devoted. All Jesus had to do was to announce himself and everyone would rally to his cause. We were ready.
I would force his hand. I would pretend to work with the priests to bring Jesus to them. They would send the temple guards to arrest him. Instead, the guards would turn and form the core of his new army.
But Jesus’ weird behavior continued. At the passover meal, which was the perfect symbol of punishment for our enemies and freedom from slavery, Jesus stooped to a servant’s level and quietly washed our feet, calling us to do the same for each other. He also said that his blood was to be the basis for the new covenant. How could he identify with the sacrificial lamb if he was to be new Moses?
He looked at me as he handed me the dipped bread. I took it with trembling hands, suddenly unsure.
I couldn’t stand being there anymore. No one understood. Everything was in place. The revolution would begin that night. I had my role to play. It wouldn’t be pleasant. The others would see me on the other side and misunderstand. But I was doing what’s necessary for the nation’s good. They would call me a traitor now, but they would come to see that I was a true patriot.
The priests have given me the 30 pieces of silver. But it’s not about the money. They’ve assigned a contingent of armed men with me. I brushed away the doubts as I walked in front, holding a torch to light the way. Yes, it was a risky move, but it’s got to work!
I walked into the garden where I knew Jesus would be. In the distance, I saw him get up from a kneeling position, slowly, as if he were shouldering a heavy burden. He turned to face me and I saw the weariness on his face. I drew close to greet him with a kiss, which was my prearranged signal that this was Jesus. I also wanted to whisper to him that I was on his side, that this was the time. But he startled me by being the first to say in my ear, “my friend, will you betray me with a kiss?” I felt disoriented as we separated and the mob behind me stepped ahead to surround and seize him. Jesus did nothing to stop them as they shoved and poked him, laughing. The other disciples – well, they all ran away, disappearing into the trees. The crowd called them cowards and mocked Jesus for his failure as their leader.
I couldn’t move, head reeling in shock. As the noise of the crowd faded away, I dropped my torch, which extinguished in the dust, and stood alone in the dark.
I couldn’t believe it.
At first I was angry – at Jesus, at God. How could he let me down? I was so sure that he would take control of the situation. And perhaps he still would.
I was with you.
I saw all the miracles – the loaves and the fishes, the blind could see, the deaf could hear, the dead! The dead walked again!
I thought you would lead us against the Romans. I thought you would help us chase them out! But all you did was talk and talk – and your stories – I am so sick of your stories! We need to do something!
And so I did. I brought them to you. I thought that you would perform another miracle – you would lead us to a revolution!
Why didn’t you lift a finger? Why?
Why did you tell them to put away their swords? Why did you not fight?
I felt my way in the dark towards the fading sound of the crowd.
As I wandered in the dark, a growing dread and doubts gripped my heart.
What if I was wrong? What if Jesus’ purpose was different from what I thought it was? What if the kingdom of God was not what I envisioned it to be?
I followed the crowd to the home of the chief priest, pulled my cloak up to cover my face, and stood in the shadows, watching the proceedings. Jesus said very little as he stood alone. Then he was led away.
The dread grew into a shocking realization that I was wrong about Jesus, that I was so wrapped up in my dreams and certainty that I’d missed his real message and purpose. I sank to the ground and began to weep.
I was not a hero. I was a traitor.
Because of my betrayal, everything fell apart and now an innocent man would die.
His blood was on my hands.
I went to the priests and said as much to them but they just laughed in my face and turned away.
I was not the one in control.
I was used – a tool.
So naive and stupid.
I threw the silver pieces after them but it was a useless gesture.
I couldn’t blame them. It was my fault, my blindness, my failure.
I was alone again in the dark.
I couldn’t live with what I’ve done.
Dawn was coming and I couldn’t face the light of day.
I fingered the belt at my waist as I walked to a tree in the courtyard.
This was not the way it was supposed to be.
There were at least two betrayals that night – Judas was not alone. Peter denied Jesus 3 times. One ended in shame, despair and suicide, while the other ended in restoration and in a person becoming a servant-leader. One who can be trusted with authority because he’s been humbled.
We all have been Judas or Peter one time or another. One time or another, we have betrayed Jesus, or denied Jesus. We may have chosen something else instead of following Christ – whether it is 30 pieces of silver, or pursued our own agendas instead of God’s will.
We all have sinned. We all have failed before. Sometimes we think we are terrible people because of what we have done.
It can be tempting to be our own judge and executioner when faced with our failure and sin. We beat ourselves up or give up and give in. We isolate ourselves, ashamed of meeting people, unable to face others. We ruminate in emotionally unhealthy ways, having our thoughts going round and round in our heads about what we have done. Peter rejoined his community, kept busy with work and ministry, and waited. Jesus didn’t let him off that easy, but also pointed him forward by inviting him to resume costly discipleship (not cheap grace).
When faced with our failures, we acknowledge them and take responsibility, and move forward in the confidence that God’s grace is bigger than our betrayals. Let the experience humble us but don’t live in regret. Don’t let it break us. Let the awareness of our sinfulness lead to greater tenderness in how we treat one another. Having been forgiven of a debt we can never repay, how can we hold a fellow servant hostage for a much smaller debt? Having known what we’re capable of, how can we show contempt and judge another?
There is no sin that’s unforgivable. Judas’ betrayal was bad – Dante put him at the bottom of hell. But Jesus’ death and resurrection made it possible for us to confront and take responsibility for our sins with hope that leads to new life, not death. Sometimes, the only person in the universe that has not forgiven us, is ourselves.
We reimagined this – what if Jesus met Judas again – what would he say to him? How would it be different?
This was not the way it was supposed to be.
As I took off my belt and knotted it into a noose, a rooster crowed.
Not wanting to be seen, I hastily put my cloak back on and looked around for the exit.
I saw a man also hurrying towards it as well.
His face was covered but his shape and walk seemed familiar.
I wandered around the city in a dazed stupor, moved along by the crowd.
I saw Jesus’ beaten, bloody body on display before a frenzied crowd yelling to crucify him.
I saw a fellow zealot being released but I didn’t care.
There would be no revolution. It was a fantasy.
I was jostled and swept along by the crowd as we followed the soldiers leading Jesus out of the city.
I watched as nails were driven into his hands and feet and the cross lifted up.
The weight of my guilt grew and grew.
Then I heard him say, “forgive them, for they don’t know what they’re doing.”
But he couldn’t mean me, right?
I betrayed the one who washed my feet, who called me friend, who loved me to the end.
But I still wondered about those words as I walked away.
It’s been two weeks now since that terrible night. I went back to my old hangout with the other zealots.
They were still celebrating the return of Barabbas so my presence was largely ignored.
Some were suspicious about my role and whispered about me but I didn’t care.
They were already rallying behind the released convict, and making plans.
Yeah, Jesus didn’t turn out to be who they expected but they were ready to move on.
I’d heard rumors that Jesus had risen from the dead but it didn’t matter to me.
I no longer deserved to have a place with him.
The other disciples planned to replace me.
One night, I was alone and going over the events of that night – reliving every word, every detail.
I must never forget. I deserved to suffer.
But I couldn’t bear the pain anymore.
The priests had purchased a field with the 30 pieces of silver, saying that it was blood money.
It was named “field of blood” and used to bury foreigners.
Seemed like an appropriate place for an outcast with blood on his hands to end his life.
It was still the middle of the night. Nothing would interrupt me this time.
As I arrived at the field, I saw the shape of a man on the moonlit field.
I realized that it was he.
I stopped at a distance and looked down, uncertain what to do or say.
I heard steps coming towards me and cringed.
Then he was standing in front of me.
I felt arms around me and a kiss on my cheek.
It burned as he continued to hold me.
My shoulders shook as I sobbed.
He didn’t let go or say anything.
I broke away and started babbling about how I misunderstood his mission, thought that I was doing the right thing, and how I was wrong, how guilty I felt, and how I didn’t deserve to be with him.
He looked me in the eye and said, “I forgive you. Be liberated. Join my revolution. Follow me.”