On Holy Wednesday, we remember the story the betrayal of Jesus at the hands of his disciple Judas. What was Jesus’ great crime for which Judas was willing to betray him? Basically, it was simply for not being who Judas thought he was. What makes this line of thought ironic is that it means that in Judas’ mind, Jesus had betrayed him. This is hardly a new thought, but one I think is worth thinking through again today.
We see this pattern often in our interpersonal relationships. We often project our hopes and dreams (or just as commonly our deepest fears and anxieties) onto others and are then disappointed, angry even, when they refuse to play the role in which we have cast them. What we have projected upon them is more important in how we feel about them than who they really are. This is why, if romantic love is to last, it has to be build on something stronger than infatuation. Almost by definition, no one can live up to the lofty expectations of our infatuated minds.
If we think back to Judas, the best guess for what went wrong is that he, like so many around Jesus, expected him to be a military messiah, someone who would smash Israel’s enemies and make her a shining, strong and independent nation. And, if John’s comment about Judas’ greed and theft is any indication, he likely allied himself to Jesus more as his personal ticket to prosperity than out of any patriotic or pious sensibility. And so, when he finally got that Jesus was not about all that, Judas lashed out — with grave consequences for both Jesus and himself. (Matthew’s Gospel has Judas so filled with guilt that he kills himself.)
For his actions, the name ‘Judas’ has become synonymous with betrayal in our culture. The danger in this is that we can easily end up doing the flip side of what he did to Jesus to him: projecting all of our disgust and anger onto him, rather than looking at our own hearts. (As Julian said, it’s a dangerous thing to contemplate other people’s sins!) If we read the story of Judas and leave it feeling angry and vindicated in our own righteousness compared to him, we’ve missed the point. If we’re honest with ourselves, we’re entirely capable of doing what Judas did to Jesus — and in small ways, enact our own betrayals every day. Judas is a villain of the story to be sure, but one in whom we must see ourselves.
I’ll keep this reflection short today, but as we reach this turning point in Holy Week, may we remember that when we look at Judas, we are, in a sense, looking in the mirror. There but by the grace of God go we.