Judas Iscariot is a tragic figure in the Gospels. He is known best for betraying Jesus Christ, leading to his crucifixion. John wrote this of Judas many years after the events occurred in the garden of Gethsemane: “he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it.”
Given John’s characterization of Judas, it’s a bit unnerving, perhaps, to think that Judas spent years in the company of Jesus. Judas knew Jesus intimately and was part of the very inner circle of followers of Jesus. Jesus certainly knew Judas as well. He knew well that Judas would be the one who would betray Him. He “called it” at the Last Supper.
Have you considered the fact that Jesus allowed Judas so close to him all that time, knowing what Judas would do? John’s comment about Judas many years later, describing Judas as a “thief” who helped himself to the funds that Judas oversaw for the group of disciples, suggests that John knew the character of Judas as well.
The betrayal of Jesus, of course, was part of God’s plan. It had it happen. Jesus came to offer himself as a sacrifice for the sins of men, but Jesus added, “But woe to that man who betrays him!”
What sort of man betrays Jesus? Was Judas just an evil person?
Mary Poplin is a former radical feminist, new age spiritualist, liberal professor who became a Christian and spent some time working with Mother Teresa. Hers is an unusual and intriguing story.
Among other things, she talks about Mother Teresa’s radical forgiveness. For instance, Richard Dawkins wrote an entire book about Mother Teresa in which he criticized her vilely for taking money from other people, among other things. The brief glimpse Mary Poplin gives us into the life of Mother Teresa reveals a woman who, perhaps as much as anyone in modern history, lived the sacrificial example of Jesus. This stands in contrast to the stark, cold criticism of the atheist, Dawkins.
The point of this blog article isn’t a comparison between the two, however, but, to focus “radical forgiveness”. Mother Teresa’s response was: “It matters not; he’s forgiven.”
And when Dawkins heard the response, he wasn’t very happy about it. He scoffed that he doesn’t need to be forgiven, and he didn’t ask to be forgiven. Mother Teresa’s response when she heard about his response was to laugh and to say, “It’s not I that forgives; it’s God. God has forgiven him.”
The point here, is that though Dawkins had reviled Mother Teresa, she forgave him unconditionally. Mary Poplin, summarized Mother Teresa and her followers, “They didn’t have any hooks left in them.” They didn’t hold on to any ill will whatsoever.
I don’t know about Mother Teresa’s theology, but the example of living out the forgiveness that Jesus demonstrated and called us to live out is the key. It is radical, and it’s rooted in our acknowledgment that God is God, and we are not. You might as well call it radical obedience because it matters not what we think or feel about the subject.
My Christmas thoughts a year ago were focused on the women in the genealogy that Matthew included in the beginning of his Gospel. Tamar, Rahab and Ruth are all stories of redemption foreshadowing the ultimate redemption story when God entered into our story, which is ultimately His story. The grand story of global redemption is what we celebrate at Christmastime, and these women are all instrumental in that global redemption story.
A total of five women are listed in the patriarchal lineage included at the beginning of Matthew’s Gospel. The oddity of including women in a patriarchal lineage bears some investigation. Indeed, we find the redemptive theme when we look into it, and, that theme continues with the next woman on the list, but with a twist.
The twist begins with the fact that the next woman isn’t even named! The genealogy in Matthew reads like this:
Boaz the father of Obed, whose mother was Ruth,
Obed the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of King David.
David was the father of Solomon, whose mother had been Uriah’s wife[i]
Another oddity signals that something is different here. The stories of Tamar and Ruth were stories of kinsman-redeemers, women who embraced the shelter and protection of the relatives of their deceased husbands and, thereby, gave birth to sons who would carry on the line that would eventually lead to Jesus, the Christ (Messiah). All of the first three women, including Rahab, are also stories of faith and God’s faithfulness.
The story of “Uriah’s wife” is another example of God’s faithfulness, but human side of the story is one of unfaithfulness. Bathsheba is the mother who had been Uriah’s wife. She isn’t named for a scandalous reason.
This blog article is prompted by a Christmas tax article. Yes, Christmas and income taxes go together. Who would’ve thunk it?!
In Luke 2:1, we read that Caesar Augustus sent out a decree for a census. It turns out the census was declared so that the Caesar could tax people. I didn’t know that before.
That previously unknown fact (unknown to me at least) isn’t what caught my eye or what prompts this article, though. The article is also not about unjust taxes that burden the poor and avoid the rich. This article also isn’t about the controversy over whether Luke is accurate about the census and the timing of it.
What prompts me to write this piece is the reference to a previous census and previous tax and the surprising and shocking instigator of that tax – the man of God who allowed it to happen, David.
My son posted an article written by a young woman who was chastised by an older woman for wearing holy jeans in church. She was accused of being disrespectful to God. I am reminded of the charge Jesus made against the Pharisees about being whitewashed tombs. They looked good and clean on the outside, but they were empty on the inside.
We are good at making ourselves look good on the outside, but that isn’t what counts.
Jesus was pretty clear when he told us that we should stop judging by appearances. How did this elderly woman know that the young church attendee was disrespecting God? God judges the heart, and God alone. He weighs our motives. The people who look good to us, may be anything but good, and the opposite is certainly true as well.
It’s no wonder that millennials are leaving the church in big numbers. If this older woman represents what is important to the average churchgoer today, the Pharisees are still leading the way in religious circles.
The thing is that human nature in the 1st Century is the same as human nature in the 21st Century.
We live with an illusion that we are somehow more enlightened, less barbaric and more advanced than our ancient counterparts. We want to believe that we have made progress over time and are getting better. We don’t stone people to death for moral crimes anymore (at least in many countries). Activists parade in the public square today to support human rights rather than gathering in the public square to watch executions (in many countries anyway). But we shouldn’t ignore the signs that suggest a different narrative.
More people were killed by genocidal rulers in the 20th Century than in all the previous centuries combined. Look at the awful number of people killed in Chicago alone by handguns every week, month and year. We don’t burn babies on the outstretched arms of Molech anymore; we tear them limb from limb in the womb. In many countries around the world, we still stone people to death, cut off their limbs, burn their faces and even through homosexuals off of roofs with the sanction of social and governmental blessing.
I don’t see anywhere in the teachings of Jesus a statement that we will be judged by the degree to which we have achieved justice for the wrongs that have been done to us. God is just. In fact, he is perfectly just, but He didn’t leave us any instruction to that effect.
We may think of God’s justice in the context of an eye for an eye.[A] Where there is a wrong, perfect justice requires recompense. We don’t feel this any more keenly than when we have been wronged ourselves by others.
But there is a flip side to God’s justice. The flip side of God’s justice is God’s mercy, and God desires mercy more than God desires justice.[B] God desires to extend relationship to people rather than assign punishment. In fact, our own relationship to God can be measured by the extent of our relationship with others.