In Defense of...Judas Iscariot

January 14, 2009 | Comments (0) | by T.R.

You don't have to subscribe to Christianity to know the name Judas. It is a title that is synonymous with betrayal, often used to describe a person who has turned against their principles and lost the trust of the people that love them (think Bob Dylan going electric). Calling someone Judas, of course, is derived from the actions of Judas Iscariot (pictured to the left of Jesus), one of the original twelve Apostles of Jesus Christ.

According to the Gregorian calendar, Jesus died at the hands of the Romans well nigh 2,009 years ago. As the story goes, Jesus was a simple man destined for magnificent things. He lived his life modestly as a carpenter, following in the footsteps of Joseph, the husband of his mother Mary. His real father, of course, was God. God instructed Jesus to be his mouthpiece on Earth, preaching the good life to all who would listen. Jesus developed quite a following, performing various miracles, healing the sick, practicing general do-goodery. His lifestyle and teachings, however, did not automatically ingratiate Jesus with all his Jewish acquaintances. Toward the end of his brief life, he had made numerous religious enemies, and his friends were keenly aware of the new wave in which they were a crucial part.

Jesus, through the omniscience of God, knew his own demise was imminent, and as any good socialite would, he planned a going away dinner with his disciples. At this Last Supper, Jesus foretold the events that were to come, and made it clear that one of the present Apostles would betray him. That individual, as history shows, would turn out to be Judas Iscariot.

Judas was effectively the treasurer of Jesus's crew. He is referred to in the Gospel of John as keeping the "money bag"* for the Apostles. Like any good entrepreneur, Judas was well aware of his unique position, and the market for the good that only he and few others could provide. Judas therefore arranged to sell Jesus to the Romans for a profit of "thirty pieces of silver"*, more than enough to buy that new fishing net he had been eyeing.

A night or two after the Last Supper (Wikipedia was foggy on the exact date, and I haven't been to mass in years), Jesus and the Apostles were relaxing in a garden. The Romans were tipped off by Judas, arrested Jesus, and hurried him off to Pontius Pilate.

Though he had rationalized his actions at the time, Judas quickly realized what a treacherous act he had committed and was filled with remorse. Note that a successful businessman would have realized that pain, suffering, and deciet are just part of the game. Judas returned the silver, and like a billionaire fallen prey to a Ponzi scheme, he hanged himself*.

In defense of Judas Iscariot, two issues arise:
  • If Jesus knew that events would play out in this manner, why go through the posturing? If his death was part of a prophecy, would Judas not have simply been doing what was necessary, playing the role as pre-determined by God? Why make a big stink of it at the Last Supper. Did even Jesus feel compelled to air his dirty laundry to anyone who would listen?
  • Along this lines, if Jesus knew he would be rising from the dead a mere 72 hours later, why would he allow Judas to kill himself? Jesus had to have known what lied in store; I mean, he was the flipping son of God! He'll raise Lazarus from the dead but let Judas kill himself? That's preposterous and has bothered me since Sunday school.
Ultimately, though Judas had dollar signs in his eyes and the cold steel heart of a landlord, even he realized the error of his ways and refused to live with his disgrace. We may be quick to label those who betray us as a "Judas", but what do we call repentant, remorseful individuals who simply make bad decisions they regret? We call them "friends", because we all make mistakes. At the end of the day, we need to be honest with ourselves, just like Judas. God did not fault Judas Iscariot, we did.

* source: The Bible by way of Wikipedia