I didn’t expect to be so affected by the life of Judas Iscariot. For most of my Christian life, when I came across the infamous story of Judas Iscariot, I breathed a sigh of relief that I was nothing like him. Anyone would feel that way. No one wants to identify with Judas. In fact, the other Judas is called NOT Iscariot (John 14:22)!
During Orthodox Holy Week observance, and I attended church with my son. I went to several services, and I cannot believe how often Judas was highlighted. It was, after all, Holy Week. It was the week to get hearts prepared to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead! Shouldn’t we hide Judas Iscariot and his betrayal of Jesus under the rug? Isn’t it the dirty little secret of the Christian story that we would rather not talk about? And if we do mention it, shouldn’t we do so quickly and not spend time thinking about something so scandalous?
In service after service we stopped to ponder the behavior of Judas, the betrayer of Jesus. We didn’t look at him to make us feel better about ourselves. Rather, we look at him as a warning for our own souls. We examine his lack of understanding of who Jesus said He was. We look at our own preference to the good of this world (greed) above honoring Jesus. We face that Judas made a deliberate decision to plot against Jesus. I never thought that I would be able to relate so much to Judas, the betrayer of Jesus.
Like Judas, I choose the riches of this world above the incomparable riches of knowing Jesus Christ. Like Judas, my own misunderstanding of what God is doing in my life leads me to oppose His work rather than commit to the mystery. Like Judas, I can be the most wretched of men. Like Judas, I can judge others who are worshipping God in an extravagant fashion (Mary anointing Jesus with perfume).
So I have a lot to learn from Judas. In Israel, St. Onuphrius Monastery was built over the cemetery that was known as the field of blood (Matthew 27:8), purchased after Judas attempted to return his 30 pieces of silver. I was told the reason this monastery was built in this place is that we must never forget the deeds of Judas and must constantly examine our own lives against the disease of sin that Judas exhibited. Judas let Satan enter into his heart so completely that he did not see the mercy of Christ.
Though I can act like Judas in many ways—judging other Christians, misunderstanding God’s work, giving into my greed for the goods of this world, making deliberate decisions to disobey Jesus— with God’s help I can recognize these disparities and quickly come home to Jesus. Judas’ most fatal mistake was to take his guilt and shame over betraying Jesus to the Pharisees for redemption. Once he saw what He had done to Jesus, he tried to fix it himself by seeking help from religion—the Temple. There he found no hope or answers for his sin-infested soul. The worst misdeed of Judas was to demonstrate total hopelessness in Jesus by attempting to fix what was so wrong inside of him himself. The only hope for our souls is Jesus. May I never get to the place that Judas sunk. His decisions and actions led to death—physically and spiritually (Matthew 27:3-10).
Though my lessons from being asked to think about the deeds and actions of Judas have humbled and surprised me, they are good and holy lessons. I have learned that Judas’ story is not one to push away in the closet but one to constantly use to examine my own heart and soul. I have a lot to learn from Judas.