“God shall be praised”
I am going to tell you right from the start, that the name “Judas” means “He [God] shall be praised.” I’ve been thinking about that all week; Judas’s name means “[God] shall be praised.” How is this possible?
So how did Judas praise God? Isn’t Judas’ name synonymous with betrayal? How was betraying the Christ praising God?
Jesus knew that Judas was going to betray him. At the Last Supper Jesus said that one of the people at table with him would betray him. And then, on THIS very night, Jesus took bread and said, “This is my body, given for YOU.” He said this to his disciples, all twelve, including “Judas-God-shall-be-praised.” And then Jesus took the wine and said, “This is my blood, given for YOU.” I’ll bet he was looking at Judas.
Visualize this meal with me. I know you’ll think of Leonardo Da Vinci’s famous painting. But think of a more circular arrangement, with those at table reclining on carpets or cushions. And who was at the table with Jesus?
- The ones who would fall asleep while he prayed for his very life.
- The one who would swear oaths that he didn’t even know Jesus.
- The ones who would merely run away.
- The one who would doubt him.
- And of course, the one who would betray him.
The betrayer, of course, was Judas Iscariot, Jesus’ treasurer. Just about every time the Bible mentions Judas there is a parenthetical phrase, “The one who betrayed Jesus.”
So at the Last Supper Jesus said one of the twelve would betray him and identified Judas Iscariot as the Betrayer-to-Be. In Matthew’s gospel, as we heard on Sunday, before this meal Judas had gone to the Chief Priests and solicited 30 pieces of silver for “betraying Jesus to them.” And what did Jesus do at the Last Supper? Did he excommunicate Judas? No! Did he kick him out of the twelve? No! All he did was to observe, “It would have been better if that one had never been born.” And then Jesus took Bread and broke it and gave it to all twelve. Then he took the cup, and gave them some wine, as well, in remembrance of him, he said.
Later, Matthew says, “When Judas, his betrayer, saw that Jesus was condemned, he repented and [he gave back the money].” Have you ever noticed THAT little detail? Judas repented.
Turns out, what you MAKE of Judas’ repentance, how you interpret this statement, depends on what kind of Christian you are. Some say, “So Judas felt BAD that he had betrayed Jesus, and he gave back the money. He should have turned to Jesus and asked HIM for forgiveness instead of going to the Chief Priests.” Other Christians say, “But Judas REPENTED and tried to make the situation right.” These Christians think “repented” means “repented.” [Preacher waves her hand in the air at this point.] Still others—especially those who think suicide is a sin—point to Judas’ suicide and say “If Judas repented, he didn’t repent very well.”
So I’ll let you decide; did Judas repent and return to the Lord? Did Judas live up to his name, “[God] shall be praised?” Certainly his name is synonymous with betrayal; in this way Judas would have been better off never having been born.
In John’s gospel (18:9), we learn that Jesus convinced the Jewish guard to let his disciples go when they were arresting him to fulfill what had been prophesied, “I have not lost one of those you gave me.” Was Judas lost, or not?
I know that you’ll tell me that Judas was just misguided. You’ll tell me he just wanted Jesus to be more … political. I think you’ve been unduly influenced by “Jesus Christ Superstar.” Superstar’s gospel is that Judas meant well, but was just a bit misguided.
I figure this interpretation, while possible, would have special appeal tonight. After all, if you are here tonight, chances are that YOU are one of Jesus’ inner circle, like Judas was. Chances are that YOU now, or in the past, held a prominent position in church leadership, as Judas did. And, like Judas, you have a special relationship with Jesus. I tell you, just hanging around Jesus, hanging around with others who believe in and follow Jesus, isn’t the same as believing in Jesus and following Jesus yourself.
Things aren’t always the way that they seem, though. John’s gospel tells us that Judas embezzled money from the treasury (12:3-6). John wanted us to know that Judas was more than misguided. I figure John’s community must have had people among them who only appeared to be disciples, because his gospel is the hardest on Judas. In John 6:71, John tells of Jesus saying, “Have I not chosen you twelve and one of you is a devil?” Think about THAT for a minute; Jesus chose Judas as a disciple knowing that he was not “of God” so that “God shall be praised.”
The other gospels are a bit more sympathetic to Judas. THEY say the evil one led Judas astray. Talk about stating the obvious! But let’s get real—Judas was not a nice man, but he repented (whatever you choose to make of THAT) and Jesus himself washed his feet and gave him his Body and Blood. And that’s what counts in my book: Christ Jesus’ judgment of Judas, not mine.
John’s gospel disagrees with me on this point (17:12), qualifying Jesus statement to say that one WAS lost that he had been given, “the Son of Perdition, that scripture might be fulfilled.” Perhaps it is wishful thinking on my part, but in my reading of even John’s gospel, Christ Jesus came to redeem sinners who repent, not to condemn them (3:17).
Some people think it “unfortunate” that Judas committed suicide before Jesus—from the cross—said “Father forgive them,” as if Judas was beyond reach of Christ’s redeeming love once dead. I reject that notion, as well.
I don’t usually read poems in sermons, but there’s a poem called “The Judas Tree” by D. Ruth Etchells that I’d like to end with tonight. This poem isn’t Gospel, but it contains some gospel. Listen for how, in it, “God shall be praised:”
In Hell there grew a Judas Tree
Where Judas hanged and died
Because he could not bear to see
His master crucified.
Our Lord descended into Hell
and found his Judas there,
forever hanging on the tree,
grown from his own despair.
So Jesus cut his Judas down,
and took him in his arms.
“It was for this I came,” he said,
“and not to do you harm.
“My Father gave me twelve good men,
and all of them I kept,
though one betrayed and one denied,
some fled and others slept.
“In three days’ time I must return,
to make the others glad.
But first I had to come to Hell,
and share the death you had,
“My tree will grow in place of yours,
its roots lie here as well.
There is no final victory,
without this soul from Hell.”
So when we all condemned him,
as of every traitor worst,
remember that of all his men,
our Lord forgave him first.
There’s hope for you and me, my friends.