Judas walked with Christ for years. He was as close as a brother, and he loved Jesus.
Can you imagine? They walked hundreds of miles together in the quiet countryside. They ate, slept, and worked together. Most days were probably filled with laughter and joking, during days of work to do what Jesus asked them — to bring people to understand the law and realize that God is Love. And Judas was there, in the midst of it all, the whole time. He was a comrade, a friend, and a brother. He worked just as hard as the next, faltering no more than the rest.
When I imagine what Judas was really like, he always has a few qualities that seem pretty typical of moody adolescents. I imagine him being pretty stubborn, and struggling to let go of what he had been taught, how he understood, and what he knew from experience. He probably maintained a very critical view of the world — even when learning at the feet of Jesus, he was apt to over-analyze and challenge everything. He wasn’t unintelligent or apathetic. He left everything to follow this man. Surely there was a reason? A GOOD reason?
Judas, understandably, got impatient. The days had turned to weeks, the weeks to months, and the months to years. Jesus kept talking about how he was fulfilling the prophecies, but nothing was happening. How Judas waited for the day when the Teacher would overthrow everything and claim it for his own! Then, Jesus started sharing a new understanding of what those prophets meant. He was to die a horrific death, without doing anything to deserve it. He wasn’t going to be the rebel, the revolutionary… he would do nothing wrong. Still, he would be murdered, his followers would scatter, and all would be okay because he was the “Son of God.”
Peter was the one that believed without question. Judas was not. They were both searching for the Truth, but one was more likely to be open to it than the other. I can hear Judas asking one of his brother disciples in a hushed whisper, “Do you think he REALLY is of God? Is he not just a great teacher? That’s enough for me!”
While reflecting on his role in the story of salvation this past week, my heart broke for Judas. What misery he brought upon himself! If the heart of God breaks at the loss of a soul, Judas was no less than any other. But how could he manage to go that far? Why did he never call Jesus, “Lord”? How was one of the original brotherhood lost?
Maybe he was afraid. He could very easily listen to what Jesus was saying and understand the increasing urgency. Add that to what Jesus was saying, and the future didn’t look so easy. It’s a wonder that more didn’t run until those last days and hours.
Maybe Judas thought that he knew better. Jesus said that the Father’s will was for Him to die an undeserved death, and Judas shook his head. “Jesus! You can heal the sick, give sight to the blind, and make people walk again! You send out demons and understand Scripture better than any! And you brought Lazarus back from the dead! Don’t KID WITH ME, you can bring about your kingdom HERE and NOW!!” Maybe his faith was so strong that it drove him to contrive God’s will into his own. By giving Jesus over to the Jews, he would give him an opportunity to conquer gloriously. Nevermind what Jesus says, surely this is what the Teacher really wanted!
Maybe he lacked conviction. It was probably easy to be swept up in the gossip about Jesus, especially amidst the teachers and rabbis he had trusted for so long. In their bitterness and anger, they probably spoke with more urgency than Jesus! And for Judas, a man truly searching and struggling to understand, every question remains unanswered. He was the insider with all the information, and as long as he kept talking, his words would be twisted against Jesus. He probably began to believe the lies because they sounded like his own words!
Among so many reason, the root of it is this: Judas did not trust Jesus. He didn’t trust Him because he was skeptical and critical, and the world maintained its grip on his heart. He walked with the Lord, and he knew Him intimately. For three years, he searched his own heart at the side of Jesus. He loved Jesus, the man.
The tragic ending is that Judas loved Jesus… but didn’t allow himself to be loved by Jesus. He didn’t let Love transform him.
How often, and how brilliantly, is that me? We are so quick to criminalize and condemn Judas, and we find no compassion or empathy for him. We should, but I think we are overwhelmingly afraid that we will see too much of ourselves in him.
I, too, have been a follower. I have learned from the Teacher and taught others to be his followers. I have used the words and actions that Jesus gave because He said so, and because it is doing me well. Sometimes I am critical and wary of what He says. I am stubborn and hard-hearted, and I seek my own gain. I am equal or better than all, even the one who teaches and instructs me. I am Judas.
I walk with Christ and I am a follower, but have I been truly transformed by the Love of my Beloved? Have I called Him “Lord” and “Master” — or will he forever be a teacher, someone no better than I? Have I opened my heart and allowed myself to be vulnerable in His presence? To put myself aside and consider exalting him above all I know, say, do, and am?
If not, I risk the chance that I will walk away. I will walk away from Love, all because I refused to be changed or to trust in something greater than myself.
If I am afraid, if I think my plan is greater than God’s, or if I am not convinced, consumed, and convicted by Love Himself, I will turn away.
I will break the Father’s heart.
I will be so absorbed in myself that I will take leave of my Savior during the day, and excuse myself from sharing the most important meal of the year with my Lord.
I will hurry away, intent on trusting men instead of God.
No matter how long or how far we walk with Christ, the Enemy is still at work. I must be constantly aware that I do not only follow Christ, but am transformed by Him. If my time with Him doesn’t reveal the Truth of God’s will, my heart is not open. If ever I am afraid, it is because I have already begun to turn away. And when I lose sight of the One who loves me enough to recreate me into something beautiful, I lose sight of everything that matters.
Judas loved, but he wouldn’t accept Jesus’ intimate love for him.
This is our challenge, this weekend and always:
Be loved. Be transformed.