Hi friends! Here is my sermon from Sunday – I was preaching on Judas’ betrayal and Jesus’ arrest. It’s funny, because as I was wrestling with the text this week I thought to myself, “This is why we rarely preach on this stuff!” I feel bad, because I have a feeling my congregation is going to get a lot of me not coming to any conclusions from here until we finish the Year of Mark. But perhaps maybe inviting them into my own process of trying to understand it is more important.
Rehoboth Congregational Church
May 19, 2019
A Reflection Of Our Brokenness
A few months ago, my Tuesday morning bible study was studying the Book of Exodus and we frequently had to stop ourselves and differentiate what we knew to be true from what we were reading in the scripture, itself, and what we thought was true from what we had all remembered from the motion picture.
As I reflected on the story of Jesus’ arrest this week, I realized that the same is kind of true when it comes to what I know about Judas. Reading this story out of the Gospel of Mark, I had to intentionally differentiate what I also know about Judas from the other Gospels and, of course, from Jesus Christ Superstar.
The truth is, if we are looking solely at the Gospel of Mark, we really do not know a lot about Judas. We know that he went to the chief priests and agreed to betray Jesus. We know that, after he agreed to betray Jesus, the chief priests offered him money. We know that he followed through on this agreement.
In this morning’s scripture reading, Judas arrives at Jesus’ side with a crowd of people – chief priests, scribes and elders – carrying swords and clubs. Judas had told them that he would give them a sign, that he would go up to Jesus and kiss Jesus and that is how they would know who Jesus was. So Judas greets Jesus by saying, “Rabbi!” and kisses him. This is the sign Jesus’ arresters need; they lay hands on him and arrest him.
The frustrating part about the Gospel of Mark is that we really do not know why Judas does what he does. In the Gospel of Matthew, his betrayal seems to be financially motivated; Judas goes to the chief priests and asks them directly how much money they would pay him to betray Jesus and then agrees to do it. While Judas is offered money in return for his offer to betray Jesus here in the Gospel of Mark, the offer of betrayal comes first. And in the Gospels of Luke and John, it is explained that Satan enters Judas and that is why he betrays Jesus.
And, of course, Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice explain Judas’ betrayal by dramatizing Judas’ concerns over Jesus’ rising popularity. And while, who knows, that explanation might not be untrue, to be clear, it is not actually a storyline that can be found in scripture, itself.
But Mark gives us nothing. We know that Judas Iscariot was appointed as part of the twelve men Jesus called apostles in the third chapter, and that they were, “sent out to proclaim the message, and to have authority to cast out demons.” But beyond that, his name was not mentioned again, separate from the other twelve, until he went to the chief priests and agreed to betray Jesus.
And we do not know why.
As strange as this sounds, I have always felt somewhat empathetic towards Judas; because he must have been so broken in order to do what he did. He had followed Jesus, almost from the very beginning; he had witnessed Jesus’ miracles, his healings, his compassion and his hospitality. He broke bread with Jesus and was equipped, by Jesus, for his own journey and ministry. He was one of the twelve that were closest to Jesus.
And yet, he betrayed Jesus.
How broken he must have been to do what he did.
And yet, aren’t we all just as broken?
There is a reason that Jesus had to come and live among us in the first place. It was not because we are whole, but because we are broken; not because we are perfect, but because we need to be transformed by God’s grace. And so Judas’ actions remind me of just how human this brokenness is; Judas’ betrayal emphasizes a need for a savior.
Remember – Jesus knew that all of this was going to happen. When Jesus was with the disciples at the Passover meal, he told them that one of them was going to betray him. And when he said this, they got pretty anxious and upset and said to him, “Well, it is not going to be me, right?” And part of me wonders if they responded this way, not because they were worried that this was going to happen to Jesus, but because they realized that, in fact, might be capable of doing what he said they were going to do; that, in fact, they might betray Jesus.
Judas’ choice here not only reveals a flaw in himself, but it reveals a flaw in all of us; a flaw where we do not always do the right thing, where sometimes we make bad choices. Sometimes we make bad choices for the right reasons, sometimes we make bad choices for the wrong reason and sometimes we do not even realize that we are making bad choices.
In the end, we are all human.
Judas’ story fascinates me, because I can see myself on both sides of it. I can see myself both making bad choices and also being on the receiving end of other people’s bad choices.
And, let’s be honest, neither place is a fun one to be.
But we have all been there, right? We have all made bad choices – whether they be for good, bad or unintentional reasons. And it does not really feel good when we have to come to terms with those choices, right?
On the other hand, we have also all been on the receiving end of other people’s bad choices – whether they be for good, bad or unintentional reasons. And it does not really feel good when we have to come to terms with those choices, either.
And yet we are all human. We try to do the right thing. Sometimes we fall short. We try to extend forgiveness when other people do not do the right thing. Sometimes we fall short.
So what are we supposed to do? What are we supposed to do when we are the betrayer? What are we supposed to do when we are the one being betrayed?
I was at a meeting this week at the conference offices for the Massachusetts Conference of the United Church of Christ and a pastor named Rev. Kirk Byron Jones was giving a presentation on his latest book, Soul Talk. Now, full disclosure, some of it was over my head, but he asked us to do a Soul Awareness Inventory where we were given a series of statements and then had to respond, yes, no or somewhat. The statement that gave me the most trouble was one that said, “I know when my soul is rejecting something.” And I think the reason I had so much trouble responding to that statement is because, while I often know when my soul is rejecting something – when my soul is saying, “You are making a bad choice” or “You are in over your head” or “You do not know what you are doing” or “You are trying to do too much” or “You are about to going to make someone angry” – I either realize it after the fact or I am not really sure how to get out of it.
I expressed this tension to my partner who I was sharing with – and I even brought up Judas’ betrayal, because it was obviously on my mind gearing up towards Sunday and I do wonder if Judas’ soul was rejecting his actions. I have always wondered if, deep down, he really did not want to be doing what he was doing.
And my partner, who is a pastor down on the cape, affirmed the place of tension that I was in and said something to the effect of, “Yeah, because often times when you get into something like that, you cannot just get out of it; there is not quick or instant fix.”
And that’s when I realized – that’s what church is. Don’t get me wrong, it is not a quick or an instant fix, but it is a safe place where we can be the most authentically messed up and imperfect versions of ourselves; where we can make mistakes and try again, where we can get in too deep and have others help us out. Church is a place where we can wrestle, not only with the brokenness of Judas’ humanity and also the brokenness of ours, as well.
Church is a place where we can hold one another accountable for our actions and, again, a safe place where we can admit to those we are in covenant with that we might be making a bad choice, that we might be in over our head, that we might not know what we are doing and ask for help as we seek to change the course of our journey. Church is a place where we calibrate our moral compass and learn how to use it in our daily lives. Church is a place where we learn how to extend grace and also to receive it, as well.
Judas’ story is so fascinating to me, not because it is uplifting and there is a clear lesson in all of it, but because it is such an accurate reflection of the complexity of the human condition.
Because any one of us could have been in the garden that day.
But I am determined. I am determined not to let our own imperfections get in the way of our quest for God’s grace. I am determined to not let our brokenness define our worthiness of God’s love. I am determined to shine light into the darkness of the world, even when that darkness is scary and complicated and seemingly endless.
And it all starts here. It is here where we seek to strengthen our faith; where we learn from the steps and the missteps of others. It is here where we wrestle with what it means to be human and also where we give thanks to God for the gift of resurrection to new life; for the forgiveness of sins and the fullness or grace and the promise that redemption is always possible, even if we are not always sure how we are going to get there.
Thanks be to God!