Sermon - 19th March 2017
Judas and betrayal
Scripture - Mark 14:10-11; Matthew 26:14-16; Luke 22:3-6; John 12:4-6, 13:21-27
[An audio version of this sermon, in mp3 format, is available via the link at our Spirituality > Audio and Video page.]
Let us begin with a few questions:
- Have you ever met anyone whose name is “Judas”?
- If someone were to call you a “Judas”, would that be a good thing?
- What does it mean to call someone a “Judas”?
“Judas!” This one word, his name, has become a synonym for betrayal. Betrayal cuts so deeply, because it tears apart the trust in a relationship. If you have ever been betrayed by anyone, you will be only too aware of the pain and other powerful emotions it triggers.
Maybe you had the experience as a child of taking sole responsibility for something bad that had happened, like a broken window or toy, to protect a friend or sibling; or maybe you had someone take responsibility for something bad that you had done. That kind of sticking together is the glue which makes up a friendship or familial relationship.
Maybe you can recall an occasion when you thought had got away with something bad that had happened, only for a friend or sibling to change their story and land you with the blame. Such small acts of betrayal we experience as youngsters teach us the terribly destructive power of this human experience of betrayal.
I sit as a Magistrate, and sometimes we hear cases where there are co‑accused: that is where more than one person is charged with a crime, and even though one person may have had lesser involvement, and be eligible for a lesser sentence, their unwillingness to betray their friend is so strong that they will accept a harsher sentence, even jail!
In other cases, there is sometimes one person in court, but we hear from the Prosecutor that there were others involved, but, again, the unwillingness to betray another is so strong, even to the point of accepting sole and complete responsibility and the ensuing punishment.
As LGBT people, we have all had the experience at some point of taking the step to trust another person in our “coming out”. Sadly, sometimes and all too often, LGBT people have had the experience of betrayal, having that trust broken, and we have become the subject of playground or workplace gossip. For many, betrayal has been far worse and has made their lives unsafe. In many ways, we trust our families to be places of love and acceptance; however, when we are rejected because of our gender identity or sexual orientation, we are betrayed.
The betrayal which Jesus experienced had fatal consequences. When Judas betrayed Jesus with a kiss in the Garden of Gethsemane, the following morning Jesus was nailed to the Cross and died a few hours later.
In today’s sermon, I would like to explore Judas’ betrayal of Jesus, beginning with some short readings from the Gospels:
From Mark’s Gospel (14:10-12):
Then Judas Iscariot, one of the twelve disciples, went off to the chief priests in order to betray Jesus to them. They were pleased to hear what he had to say, and promised to give him money. So Judas started looking for a good chance to hand Jesus over to them.
From Matthew’s Gospel (26:14-16):
Then one of the twelve disciples—the one named Judas Iscariot—went to the chief priests and asked, “What will you give me if I betray Jesus to you?” They counted out thirty silver coins and gave them to him. From then on Judas was looking for a good chance to hand Jesus over to them.
From Luke’s Gospel (22:3-6):
Then Satan entered into Judas, called Iscariot, who was one of the twelve disciples. So Judas went off and spoke with the chief priests and the officers of the Temple guard about how he could betray Jesus to them. They were pleased and offered to pay him money. Judas agreed to it and started looking for a good chance to hand Jesus over to them without the people knowing about it.
From John’s Gospel (12:4-6, 13:21-27):
One of Jesus' disciples, Judas Iscariot—the one who was going to betray him—said, “Why wasn't this perfume sold for three hundred silver coins and the money given to the poor?” He said this, not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief. He carried the money bag and would help himself from it.
[Jesus said,] “I am telling you the truth: one of you is going to betray me.” The disciples looked at one another, completely puzzled about whom he meant. One of the disciples, the one whom Jesus loved, was sitting next to Jesus. Simon Peter motioned to him and said, “Ask him whom he is talking about.” So that disciple moved closer to Jesus' side and asked, “Who is it, Lord?” Jesus answered, “I will dip some bread in the sauce and give it to him; he is the man.” So he took a piece of bread, dipped it, and gave it to Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot. As soon as Judas took the bread, Satan entered into him. Jesus said to him, “Hurry and do what you must!”
Who was Judas Iscariot? John’s Gospel (6:71) tells us that he was the son of Simon Iscariot. Scholars are not agreed on what exactly “Iscariot” means, although many think it refers to the town of his origin, Kerioth.
Jesus’ betrayal by Judas is mentioned in all four Gospel accounts, and the money he was paid is also mentioned in all four accounts. The silver denarius – of which Judas received 30 pieces – was the standard Roman coin paid for one day’s work, so in a 6-day working week, the 30 pieces of silver were worth 5 weeks’ wages.
The motivation for Judas’ betrayal is open to interpretation. Mark, Matthew and John precede this account of Judas offering to betray Jesus with the account of Jesus being anointed by the woman with the very expensive perfume.
Judas’ actions have been the theme of artists, scholars and theologians for centuries. One more modern attempt to understand this is in the musical “Jesus Christ, Superstar!” by Lord Andrew Lloyd-Webber and Sir Tim Rice, where Judas is a principal player.
Let us reflect on Judas’ motivation, as we watch an excerpt from that musical, as Jesus is anointed.
<Jesus Christ, Superstar! - ”Everything’s Alright”>
Was this moment the ‘final straw’ in Judas’ mind? Was money Judas’ motivation? Matthew, Mark and Luke mention the financial reward Judas received; John tells us that Judas stole from the collective purse. In contrast, Luke and John ascribe the betrayal to the Devil. There was most likely a combination of factors behind Judas’ actions.
Let us reflect further on Judas’ motivation, as we watch a second excerpt from that musical, Judas agreeing to betray Jesus.
<Jesus Christ, Superstar! - ”Damned For All Time”>
In seeking to understand Judas’ actions, there is also a philosophical and theological issue concerning free-will: Judas’ betrayal led to Jesus’ arrest and subsequent crucifixion. In today’s reading, Judas’ betrayal overshadows the Passover preparations; however, there is a common theme in the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ apparent foreknowledge of events.
The Gospels suggest that Judas is bound up with the fulfilment of God's purposes. John Calvin commented:
"Surely in Judas' betrayal, it will be no more right, because God himself willed that his son be delivered up and delivered him up to death, to ascribe the guilt of the crime to God than to transfer the credit for redemption to Judas."
Betrayal is a horrible thing. It explodes a relationship. Emotions would have already been running high at the Last Supper. In John’s Gospel account, Jesus unmasks Judas as the betrayer…
<Jesus Christ, Superstar! - ”The Last Supper”>
It did not end well for Judas: he took his own life. Anyone who has seen “Jesus Christ, Superstar!” will have been haunted by the prolonged suicide scene which hints at remorse. Rice’s lyrics reprise Mary’s love song “I don’t know how to love Him,” into Judas’ dying moments.
In closing, let us consider betrayal from a different angle: where the church has in some real sense betrayed God, where people have felt excluded from God’s love because how they have been treated, or the way in which parts of the church have spoken about them. In some ways, the URC has been at the forefront of reform, one example of which is the affirming welcome to LGBT people where same-sex marriage is offered the URC.
Our church’s afternoon ‘Metropolitan Congregation’ has a specific ministry to the LGBT people of Manchester and the North West, and we meet so many who have been deeply wounded by churches who have rejected them and thus betrayed God’s loving message. As LGBT Christians, we need to go out there and restore the Good News of the all-welcoming nature of God’s love.
Let us pray…
Your message to us is one of boundless love.
We pray for all those who have been deeply hurt:
Those who have been rejected by churches for who they are;
Those who have been rejected by family and friends for who they are.
We pray for their healing and new opportunities to trust.
Pour Your love afresh into our hearts,
So that we might be Christ to all whom we meet.