Welcome, brothers and sisters. In explaining the purpose of this weekly community diary, I will quote texasmom, who wrote on April 26:
This is a place of peace, meditation and good will. A place to share our fears and joys. All are welcome - believers, non-believers and those somewhere in between. One week, someone said he/she didn't fit into our box. We each bring our own boxes here.
We draw upon each other; knowledge, dreams and experience. Trusting, we learn from one another. I hope we may pull our boxes closer together for the evening.
I would add that you should feel free to consider the Biblical story I've addressed this evening as parable or Scripture.
Of all the wretched characters in the New Testament - and there are plenty - probably the least likable is Judas Iscariot. He is the disciple who, according to the Gospels, received 20 pieces of silver for ratting out Jesus of Nazareth to the authorities - that, is the religious leaders and Roman government officials in Jerusalem who arrested Jesus and subsequently crucified Him. In some accounts, Judas identified Jesus with a kiss. In Matthew's version, he later repented and hanged himself.
It's almost too easy to loathe him. He's whingeing and horrid, he's pathetic and malicious. He's like one of the AIG executives. I've sometimes thought, with a degree of pity, "What an abject and total failure. Thank goodness I'll never do something like that." It's a comfortable position to take.
And it's a position that's unproductive.
Let's briefly consider the "Gospel of Judas," a Coptic codex discovered in the 1970s and restored/translated between 2001-06. The codex was copied in the 3rd or 4th century from an earlier document, written some time before 180 A.D. (I'm sure there are others here who know more about it than I do. I am relying on the translation available online at the National Geographic website.)
In the rediscovered "gospel," Judas is not a despicable traitor. Instead, he is the most favored disciple, chosen by Christ to know "the mysteries of the kingdom," to be an instrument of God's will, by bringing about the Crucifixion. "You will be cursed by the other generations - and you will come to rule over them," Jesus supposedly tells him. As for the other disciples, "you will exceed all of them. For you will sacrifice the man that clothes me" (that is, Jesus' corporeal body). In the end, Judas still takes money from the high priests and betrays his rabbi. That part of the story doesn't change.
This text offers a remarkable solution to a long-standing problem - because, after all, as the story plays out in the Gospels that have long been part of the New Testament, Judas plays an absolutely necessary role. Jesus has foretold His own betrayal and death. He must be sacrificed in order to fulfill the Old Testament's prophecies. So why not decide that Judas is not really guilty? God made him do it! He had to, it was expected of him.
I don't buy it. The voice of Judas is too familiar. It is the voice of self-justification and self-delusion. The fearfulness and duplicity that we see in Judas at the Last Supper and at Gethsemane are so utterly human - humanity in a spiral of failure, but human nevertheless. He lies, he protests his good will, he flails around, he makes the worst possible choices, he repents too late, he is lost to his God.
Which gets me to my question tonight. Isn't that why we detest Judas, because he is precisely so human, so un-anointed, so not special? Don't we hate him because - we have to face it - the potential to act like him is in all of us? (After all, even Peter, a disciple who keeps faith in the long run, denies his connection to Jesus during the night before His death, because he doesn't want to get arrested or worse. Peter's denial doesn't harm Jesus, but it harms Peter himself, costing him his spiritual integrity.)
We are all just as capable of wrong-doing as Judas, and it is only by constantly, consciously remembering what is right that we can avoid committing acts that are just as iniquitous (though usually on a smaller scale and with less extreme consequences). Some time ago my son told he that he believes I am perfect, and my head was immediately filled with memories of all the crummy things I've done - especially neglect and avoidance and turning away ("sloth" or "accidie" - the fourth Deadly Sin). I also know I've given way to unkindness and anger. And I know that I am not alone.
When I get trapped in that place, I try to think how to move forward. One of the best ways I've found to do that is to turn to the fierce and candid writing of Anne Frank, one of the 20th century's most gripping writers. She would have been notable and very likely famous even if she had not died, thanks to her keen ear and eye, her ability to set down the truth with clarity and courage, and her fluid mastery of language.
Anne Frank's life ended in the hell of Bergen-Belsen. But in the days before her capture, she was able to write: "In spite of everything, I believe that people are really good at heart." This is often quoted with no context, leaving one to assume that she was some kind of saint. She wasn't. So why did she write those words? How could she think that? ... In fact, she made a conscious decision to think that, explaining herself very clearly in the next few sentences:
It’s utterly impossible for me to build my life on a foundation of chaos, suffering and death. I see the world being slowly transformed into a wilderness, I hear the approaching thunder that, one day, will destroy us too, I feel the suffering of millions. And yet, when I look up at the sky, I somehow feel that everything will change for the better, that this cruelty too will end, that peace and tranquility will return once more. In the meantime, I must hold on to my ideals.
(Emphasis mine. Source: Anne Frank, The Diary of a Young Girl: The Definitive Edition. Ed. Otto H. Frank and Miriam Pressler. Tr. Susan Massotty. NY: Doubleday, 1995.)
It is that refusal to exist "on a foundation of chaos, suffering, and death" that shows us a way out of Judas’ dilemma. But most of us cannot equal Anne Frank’s eloquence or her passion. Perhaps it is easier to think about emulating Miep Gies, who with her husband and co-workers managed to conceal and care for the Frank family and their companions from July 1942 until August 1944, and who saved Anne Frank’s writing from destruction.
Miep Gies has lived a long life, turning 100 on February 15, 2009. She is still among us, a fact I find strangely and powerfully moving. Well into old age, she traveled the world to raise awareness of Anne Frank and all she represented – but had she been less modest she could have suggested that she herself represents an ideal we can aspire to.
On her website (yes, she has one), Gies insists this is not the case, addressing those who feel that they are not brave enough to do what she did:
"I am afraid that if people feel that I am a very special person, a sort of heroine, they may doubt whether they will do the same I once did. Not many consider themselves very talented or courageous and thus would refrain from helping endangered people. This is the reason that I want everyone to know that I am a very common and cautious woman and definitely not a genius or dare-devil. I did help like so many others who ran the same or more risk than me. It was necessary so I helped."
Miep Gies could have been arrested for aiding the Franks (two of her colleagues were), but she did not give in to fear. She did not lose her way.
That fate was reserved for Amsterdam’s Judas, the person – still unknown – who informed the Nazis about the eight people who had found refuge at 263 Prinsengracht. I have often wondered what the payment was: ration cards? money? a job? And I have wondered about the life that person led. How did he or she come to terms with the act of betrayal - murder, really - and live on, close to others, perhaps married, perhaps a parent, without ever again being fully part of the human race?
In her website's FAQ, Gies offers this advice to all of us who seek to conquer the Judas inside us, and instead follow her path:
"Helping people who are in danger is not a matter of courage but of making a decision that every human being has to make in his life when he or she distinguishes between good and bad."
Brothers and Sisters is open. Please join us!