by Ray S. Anderson
Why have you come to torment me? Aren’t you satisfied that I perished from this earth by my own hands? Leave me alone, Jesus of Nazareth. Let me go to the hell I deserve! I betrayed you; I delivered you over to your own death. I said I was sorry, but sorry isn’t enough. Sorrow doesn’t change anything.
You are right, Judas Iscariot. There are things that do not change. Though I am not one who causes torment.
Yes, that’s true. I brought the torment on myself and on you, by failing your trust in me and causing your death. Yet you do torment me. You will probably tell me that you still love me, and so gain virtue for yourself and add another millstone around my neck. Don’t you realize that for the betrayer, love is a cruel reminder of failure? Go away! I have enough pain without your love punishing me further.
I tell you that you love me, and that is the cause of your pain and torment.
You’re talking nonsense. If I loved you I would not have betrayed you. After all, betrayal is not an act of love, it’s an act of treachery. You can’t deny the logic of that.
Judas, betrayal is the sin of love against love. Unlike other sins, betrayal uses love to destroy what is loved. This is why betrayal does not end a relationship, why you cannot put an end to our relationship by yourself. Forgiveness for the act of betrayal seems impossible if betrayal is the final act. Yet betrayal is not the end of love. You hate yourself because you love me. You betrayed me because you love me.
How can you stand there and say that I love you? How could this love be the cause of my torment and the source of my betrayal? You chose me—I didn’t choose you. You called me to be your disciple!
In that you are correct, Judas. I chose you because you were given to me by my Father in heaven.
Oh, so I really had no choice! It was all a divine plan and I was one of the pawns on your Father’s game board! I resent that implication. For my part I sensed an opportunity to fulfill my desire to serve God through the bringing of the Kingdom.
Such strong desire to serve God has been called love.
Don’t twist my words, Jesus! I became your disciple because I thought we had the same goal—to recover our land from the Romans and establish God’s Kingdom of righteousness and holiness. After your baptism I heard you speak openly of the coming of the Kingdom. Many of us heard the same words from you.
I came not only with words, but the Spirit of God was upon me, performing signs and wonders of healing the sick and feeding the hungry. Were you not drawn to me along with the others by the power of my Father who loves the world?
You say drawn, I say seduced—by a power I didn’t quite understand. And that sealed my destiny here on earth. Except for you I’d have been living an ordinary life, with my fanatical zeal partially tamed by unsuccessful ventures of political resistance. My friends and I would be sharing our dreams and telling our stories. But when you called me to be a disciple I risked everything on it—and failed.
I understand failure. The other disciples failed as well—they were scattered like sheep without a shepherd. I was left alone. You had each other, even in your failure.
Do you know that I went to them after betraying you and begged their forgiveness? They said that the devil had entered into me. They blamed me for everything. When I became your disciple, I began a friendship that turned out to be fatal for both of us. How can anyone call that love?
Tell me, Jesus of Nazareth—how did you decide to call me as one of the twelve? You say you chose me because your Father in heaven gave me to you. But why we twelve out of the many? Why me?
There was a decision to be made. I turned to the Father in prayer for guidance.
Are you telling me that I, Judas Iscariot, the man who betrayed you, am an answer to prayer? Do you still believe in prayer?
I did not pray so that every decision might be to my advantage, but so that I might love every decision as affirmed by the Father who loves me. You are indeed an answer to my prayer; that is why I loved you and washed your feet on the very night that you betrayed me.
You knew even then, did you not, that I was plotting to betray you? Why didn’t you stop me—or at least expose me as a traitor?
I knew, but I sought your love for me by sharing my love for you. I have prayed for you, Judas, that your love might return and that you might be healed.
I once prayed too. But no answers came. If I cannot love and cannot pray, what hope is there?
I’m confused. You tell me that I’m an answer to prayer and that you’ve prayed for me to be healed. But I sealed my fate with my fatal act of betrayal. Death was the final act of mercy that delivered my soul from the torment of life. I feel nothing; neither love nor hope.
How is it, Judas, that you feel such anger at me if you have killed all feeling?
Because you bring back to me all that I died to get away from. I closed the door to my life and sealed it with my own death. But now you’ve opened that door again. You have awakened all of the old feelings, but none that are new.
God is not the God of the dead, Judas, but of the living. Because I live, you also shall live.
Yes, I remember that you taught us that. But that had reference to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, who all died in faith. They may each have had many failures, but none of them failed as I did. My failure was fatal. I killed faith and tore the star of hope out of the black night, leaving only a gaping wound that will never heal.
And I have come to you through that tear in the fabric of despair, to touch your life again with healing grace and divine love.
But surely there are limits even to God’s grace! And I, of all persons, have passed beyond that limit. My name will be remembered without pity. My act of betrayal is my epitaph. No one weeps for me.
You were angry at me, Judas, for reminding you of your failure. Now you’re bitter because no one weeps for you.
It’s too painful to hear. You speak of healing and hope as though there were still time. But time has come to an end for me. One act of betrayal, like a drop of blood, has spread through the clear water that was my life, contaminating all. I poured it out on the ground. Never again can it be recovered—and if it could, it would be tainted with the blood of betrayal.
You feel sadness for what might have been, and despair over the irretrievable loss of your life.
Yes, of course! I loved my life and found joy in being your disciple. I really only came alive when you called me to follow you. But I see now that I ran ahead of you and tried to force you into following me!
I have had that temptation myself with respect to my Father. It is not easy to follow when your own desires are not those of your master.
But you did remain faithful, even when others denied you. In the end, you gained your life. In the end, I lost mine. Doesn’t life teach us that what counts is how we die, not how we live?
What counts, Judas, is not our foolish choices, but my Father’s gracious calling. My choosing of you counts more than your betrayal of me.
I tried to deny the feelings of love I have for you. That’s why my betrayal of you hurts so much. But our relationship can never be the same again.
We can never return to our innocence. But the love that has suffered love is not a crippled love: it can be healed and made a stronger love.
You speak as though we’ve only had a lovers’ quarrel! I went beyond denial and even unfaithfulness. I burned the bridge that made our relationship possible. I cut the cord that bound my heart to yours and my hand to heaven. There is no way back.
That is true. There never was a way back. There is only a way forward. The past can only be returned to us out of the future. Love is greater than faith and hope, because it can heal faithlessness and cure hopelessness.
In a way that I don’t understand, you place my act of betrayal, and even death by my own hand, between us as something that can be forgiven. You have awakened in me the memory of love, but not yet the possibility of its renewal.
To know that you did love me is sufficient to understand that I still love you.
But we haven’t spoken of the consequence of my action upon your life? My betrayal placed you on the cross just as surely as if I had driven in the nails with my own hands. Not even love can alter the fact that I caused your death.
My destiny was to do the will of my Father, and I was obedient—even to the point of death upon the cross. Your betrayal did not put me there. You can’t take away from me what is truly mine.
I will always be remembered as the one who betrayed you. I had no explanation to give, no justification for my action. I regretted it immediately—but regret is a bitter tonic that never cures.
Betrayal is a transaction between two, the betrayer and the betrayed, with both having a certain power in the exchange. Your power, Judas, was to destroy the relation; mine to preserve it.
I tried to deny my love for you and became blind to your love for me. I have felt the power of that love, now that it’s too late. If the sun could have stood still, and the hours and minutes slowed to an imperceptible crawl, there might have been time.
Do you think that all we need to redeem ourselves is more time?
I speak only of enough time for you to have found me before I took vengeance upon myself by taking my own life. If betrayal is a transaction between two, death is a solitary act. And death by one’s own hand is the most solitary of all deaths.
And you think that by taking your own life you sealed your fate and plunged into the realm that God has forsaken? I have been to the God-forsaken place, Judas. It was on the cross, not in the black hole in your own soul. One death in a God-forsaken way is enough. I have died that death—and behold, I am alive!
I thought I could see, but I was blind. Through your eyes I see that my life is no longer flat and one-dimensional. The door I closed has become transparent. I—I see a different Judas on the other side.
It’s not enough to use my eyes, Judas. I have touched yours so that you may see yourself, and for yourself, that you are my friend.
I saw my guilt, but not the shame that blinded me and angered me. I confessed my sin of betrayal and threw the money back at their feet. But something in me cowered like a child caught stealing coins from the box for the poor.
You have discovered what many have yet to see, Judas, that each failure is not merely an offense against God, but a loss of dignity and esteem for the self. Long before you met me, you wove a veil of shame to shield your eyes from the sight of that emaciated child.
Even in my betrayal of you, I sought to protect myself from the exposure through a too-quick confession, as though I could merely undo a wrong. But I could not keep the shame from burning through and tormenting me to death. In the end, I crept within it and killed the child that could not be healed.
You are that child, Judas, and of such is the Kingdom of God!
* * *
The late Ray S. Anderson was for many years Professor of Theology and Ministry at Fuller Theological Seminary. The above fictional dialogue may be found in his book Judas and Jesus.
For those who doubt the powerof God’s love to save all, this expresses it beautifully.
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I think that as the Word of God, what Jesus says is and so when he command or declares something about someone that saying is special. In general I reflect this in relation to the adulterous woman, I had never connect this idea to the discipleship of Judas. Thank you for the reflection
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That is quite brilliant.
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This dialogue is helpful for it raises a question, perhaps a very existential question – can we forgive Judas? Were Judas in my presence right now, would I love him, forgive him, and not think of him as the one who betrayed Jesus? How will it come to be that Judas will not be remembered as such any longer? Truly this question concerns not only Judas, but any one who has committed grievous offenses, and in turn – ourselves for that matter. How will it come to be that shame, stigma, association, that this will be no more what will be remembered? Does it mean that the offense will be not only remember, but also forgotten? Judas the lover of God! Quite radical, but it must be so.
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“Were Judas in my presence right now, would I love him, forgive him, and not think of him as the one who betrayed Jesus?”
In the text as presented, Jesus does not deny that Judas betrayed him. Indeed, as you said in your subsequent comment, “we can’t live pretending the past didn’t happen” and “the new image, the full restoration of the offender – and our embrace of him (and ourselves!) – has to come about in full light of the past”.
In my opinion and experience, this balancing act of recognising and assuming full responsibility for our past actions while at the same time accepting forgiveness for them and thus being freed from their shame-filled, toxic clutches is something many churches towards the evangelical end of the spectrum have failed to understand and embrace.
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Rob – but even with full forgiveness and wholeheartedly embrace will the betrayer not be still known as the betrayer? Yes, forgiven, but remains the man who did this evil act. There’s healing of substance required, the like of which I cannot imagine. Perhaps the then present experience of that transformed person is so different from, so overwhelmingly good in contrast to the past, the transformation so deep and radical, that it overshadows the past. At what point – how – when in the presence of Adolf Hitler will we not associate fear, hatred, anger etc. ? This would seem to be possible, somehow, only when his transformation is so complete and manifest that a one is filled with joy, warmth and love instead. I can’t imagine it, but it must be so.
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Someone once told me that the way a deep emotional trauma is truly healed, is that one day, after having struggled with it for a long time, during which it ebbs and flows, but is always there, you get through a day or a week or a month and realize … you’ve not thought of it at all. Not that you’ve forgotten it, you can still recall it if you choose to, but it no longer has the power to always be there, either in the fore or background of your awareness, and you can go on, not by denial, but by the freely offered healing power of abundant life. Might the Eschaton work something like this?
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I find identity so difficult to get around – at what point will Hitler not be thought of as “the guy who did this”? or Judas as “the guy who did that”? Doesn’t seem there would ever be that point, for this identity will always remain for a past that is not forgotten. Perhap the mercy, the love, the healing is so great that it overshadows the ugly past.
Bulgakov’s essay on the apokatastasis of Satan via Nyssen is pretty good and I think would be of interest here. (Can be found in De Noval’s Sophiology of Death Text) He even references things like suicide not as a refusal to life, but a refusal to THIS life, which is interesting for a thousand reasons in this case.
I think there are two existential/thoughtful ways to deal with this:
I think the mistake we make is assuming that our deeds need to be “forgotten” in the literal sense. I think in the idealistic mode we see it as forgetting because we no longer hold them as markers for actions moving forward once forgiven, but they don’t disappear from actuality or memory, just the truth of the new horizons of Being. They are still there and need to be there. Oddly, it is those moments and also their chastisement, that bind both creator and creature to the progression of perfection that we are all on. Mementos of pain and then overcomings, ya know. In a sense, Judas would cease being Judas without it, and yet is also the real Judas and will become the fullest version of Judas because of it in the end. Satan would appear to be no different. Lucifer, for what he was and actually is, is still that name even as hard as it gets covered up by his trying to cover it up in the self-denial of who and what he is.
Which brings us to an alternative, and this is a Macdonald point, that we achieve our real “names” in the end. So in a sense, maybe Judas doesn’t get the fullness of his being until all that is overcome and it is demonstrated to him and us who the real Judas is. Who we thought we knew, is a shadow of the real self buried deep inside of us that we are all seeking to find. In his case he isn”t merely the betrayer who mistook love in the action for power/wealth for himself. Instead he is Judas, who found love via death in recovering from its absolute depths. It inverts that action and creates not a new identity but a more real and true one. The truth of who he is, will be tied to the action in its rectifying.
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Yes, this helpful Logan – a new identity more true and real. What I am getting at is that while this new identity has to be established in the subject the new identity of that person has to be established in the “other” as well in order for it to be completely transformed. The new identity has to be true and manifest to the observer. I can’t see the beginning of Hitler as transformed person until this transformation occurs in those on the receiving end of his transgressions. Either all are saved or else none are.
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At the end of the day, it is the true and real that are required to find answers outside of the self by being conscious of the self in the other. In fact, the act of the gift that people like Marion etc are always trying to pull back from Derrida etc, really is found in the sense that we must recognize that givenness of a true center that we only find in loving them in the proper way beyond ourselves. In some cases, we won’t find it until we are fully known by someone else. Someone who looks beyond our misconceptions of who we are to uncover the real us. And that someone, is the Gift itself in the end.
Sorry for the typo/incomplete sentence, let’s try that again – this is what I meant to say in the botched sentence: “Does it mean that the offense will not only not be recalled, but beyond this will it be forgotten entirely? Is forgetfulness as such necessary for the new image, does it require total erasure? Seems to me that can’t be the case, we can’t be ourselves if we can’t recall who we were and we can’t live pretending the past didn’t happen. So the new image, the full restoration of the offender – and our embrace of him (and ourselves!) – has to come about in full light of the past, while yet going beyond a recall of shame and stigma into total love. Wow.
Someone had to betray him, or the LORDS sacrifice of dying for all of mankinds sin never could of happened. Everything is part of the CREATORS plan. The more you grow closer to the truth, the more you realize you don’t know what’s going on. The earth is a plane, no such thing as space. Man is not traveling or sending anything up very high. The 1,000 year reign of CHRIST is in the past. We are in the little season the devil is loosed.