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Alan Race: In Praise of Nukes?April 2, 2019
Judas at Bethany
In St John’s Gospel (John 12:1-8) there is a description of the scene at Bethany when Mary anoints Jesus with costly perfume.
The narrator comments that Judas who is going to betray Jesus complains that the perfume should have been sold and the money given to the poor, but that he didn’t really care about the poor but wanted to steal the money.
So Judas is not only a traitor, but a thief and insincere – and as we know after Jesus crucifixion he even commits suicide. On what basis can we cheer him?
Of course we can understand that members of a small community facing persecution would live in fear of betrayal: so it is not surprising that their writings portray someone who once seemed to be a traitor in the worst possible light. That person easily becomes the scapegoat for all the other ills that might afflict the community.
But if it weren’t for Judas perhaps the crucifixion might not have happened, and we might not have Christianity today:
Or perhaps someone else might have betrayed Jesus to the authorities and Judas would be ‘off the hook’.
There are many similarities between the scene at Bethany and with life as we encounter it today:
People are reluctant to take responsibility – those who handle money are under suspicion because trust has been eroded;
Those who resent the extravagant loving gestures of others complain that something more worthwhile should have been done with the gift – sometimes labelled as ‘virtue signalling’ – suggesting that they have the moral high ground, even if they would not have followed through had the resources been at their disposal;
People who are seen to fail are driven out, or choose to leave, just as Judas committed suicide. Yet Judas was not the only failed disciple, they all ran away, Peter denied knowing Jesus. Afterwards, Peter was forgiven and the other disciples were visited by the risen Jesus.
Judas for Us
If we look carefully at his portrait we find ourselves both in Judas and in the community’s portrayal of him.
Perhaps that can inspire us to avoid scapegoating, to be less quick to judge adversely, less inclined to ‘virtue signalling’, more inclined to accept responsibility, and less quick to walk away when we get it wrong, waiting instead in penitence for the forgiveness that is promised by God.