16 April 2019: The most serious betrayal is converting God to one’s own ideology

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Tuesday of Holy Week

Reading 1 : Isaiah 49:1-6;  Gospel;John 13:21-33,36-38

At that instant, after Judas had taken the bread, Satan entered him.

Judas! The very name is synonymous with betrayal and treachery! The New Testament writers are vehement in labelling him and making him clearly the worst man born of women!

But in the entire sordid episode about Judas there are many unanswered questions. Was he as bad as that? Was he just a common thief, who betrayed the Master for 30 pieces of silver? If so, why did he throw it all away and hang himself once Jesus was arrested? Why did he come personally to Gethsemane and even kissed the Master, making his betrayal even uglier? Intelligent as he was, he could have remained in the background and sent only the soldiers to that place, saving his face! In all these there could be more than meets the eye.

According to some scholars Judas loved Jesus, but differed from him seriously in ideology. He had been a disciple of John the Baptist, and was probably part of an underground zealot movement, intent on overthrowing the Roman rule and establishing the Messianic Kingdom. In Jesus of Nazareth he saw the Messiah. He impressed Jesus, so much that he chose him as one of his apostles. He saw and experienced the power of Jesus over the wind and the sea, over devils and sicknesses. Jesus’ idea of the ‘Kingdom of God’ appealed to him and raised his hopes of Israel’s liberation from Rome. Soon, however, he was confused and disenchanted because Jesus refused to be a king, and spoke of loving even one’s enemies, the Romans included! Their ideas of the Messianic Kingdom did not match. But the raising of Lazarus, the political rally on Palm Sunday and the courageous chasing of merchants from the temple, once again lit the messianic ray of hope in Judas. After all, Jesus had the power and the charisma to mobilise the crowds in the city! He could spearhead an anti-Roman uprising, if he wished. But Jesus was withdrawing from this ideology and refused to confront the authorities directly.

Judas conceived of an idea to make use of Jesus for his political ends, probably inspired by some of his zealot friends. He wanted to make Jesus a pawn to checkmate the high and mighty, by forcing him to confront them, convinced that once he was in front of the high priest or Pilate, Jesus, using his extraordinary powers, would defeat them, or mobilize the crowds to fight. The betrayal was his strategy to force this confrontation. To show Jesus that his intentions were good, and to assure him of the positive outcome, he personally went into Gethsemane that fateful night and even gave him a friendly kiss!

Alas, God’s plans are not man’s. He does not think like men do. Jesus was not interested in winning temporary political battles, but on winning the war against evil permanently. And his weapon was love, and if necessary, even the cross! When Judas saw that his own plans failed miserably and that he would be blamed for it, frightful remorse and guilt took over him, leading to his suicide.

So, was Judas guilty or not? He was, of course. The most serious betrayal, however, was not that kiss in the garden, but rather the rejection of the Master’s plan of Salvation, and devising his own plans of liberation. He was rash enough to try this dangerous game. And he did not mind making a little money in the bargain, as a fringe benefit. He was making use of God’s Son for his own ends, noble though they could have been in conscience! Converting God to serve our ideologies has been a temptation throughout history, even to this day, not only in Christianity but in all religions! Think of Christian colonialists, conquering nations and trading slaves in the name of their religion. Think of Muslims who propagate war in the name of Allah. Or think of the Aryan conquerors of India, who established the caste system to enslave the locals in their names of their Scriptures. God being used to sub-serve political ideologies is so common, that Judas is practically not a single person, but a paradigm in the history of the world. It could be so even in our own personal lives!

 

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