January 17, 2006

Silver, Blood and Hypocrisy

Judas Returning the Thirty Pieces of Silver by Rembrandt

1 When morning came, all the chief priests and the elders of the people conferred together against Jesus in order to bring about his death. 2 They bound him, led him away, and handed him over to Pilate the governor. 3 When Judas, his betrayer, saw that Jesus was condemned, he repented and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders. 4 He said, "I have sinned by betraying innocent blood." But they said, "What is that to us? See to it yourself." 5 Throwing down the pieces of silver in the temple, he departed; and he went and hanged himself. 6 But the chief priests, taking the pieces of silver, said, "It is not lawful to put them into the treasury, since they are blood money." 7 After conferring together, they used them to buy the potter's field as a place to bury foreigners. 8 For this reason that field has been called the Field of Blood to this day. 9 Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah, "And they took the thirty pieces of silver, the price of the one on whom a price had been set,on whom some of the people of Israel had set a price, 10 and they gave them for the potter's field, as the Lord commanded me."

Matthew 27

Judas is a saint. The patron saint of the outsider. For millenia he has carried the huge weight of our fears and sadistic fantasies. As 'devil', as the carrier of anti-Semitic hatred, as suicide, as the one who can never belong, the bad seed, the informer, the collaborator, beyond all hope and salvation. In the fantasy of Christian culture we often disown in ourselves the qualities we do not want to recognise or see....and literalising them we project them either upon the criminal or upon the innocents who don't fit....the refugee becomes the illegal immigrant, the Moslem a 'potential terrorist', the lesbian and gay man become subverters of 'family values'.

Judas, at least in Matthew's account realises what he has done....he repents, he tries to make amends but is greeted with disdain...he carried out the dirty work, he is the guilty one. the religious right can wash their hands...'What is that to us?' What do we care, you've served your purpose. In despair this tragic outsider ends his life.

In Acts Peter speaks with the voice of religion. He uses scripture (in a very subjective way) to validate his condemnation of Judas. Peter, insufferably hypocritical, who denied Christ after promising him he would die with him then hid in fear knew that Jesus said that those who denied him before men he would also deny before the Father. He dehumanises Judas as simply the proof of Biblical inerrancy. Scripture also is used by Peter as a justification for condemnation. Peter passes the buck to Judas. There was someone worse than him...let him be the betrayer! But in denying Judas is he not denying Christ who completely identified with the excluded?

It seems to me that the hideous death Judas is ascribed in Acts reflects the violence in our hearts towards those who act out our own secret desires or hidden vices and also our fear of those we perceive as 'different', in religion, culture, ethnicity or sexuality.

In Matthew's account it is interesting that the Potter's field becomes the place where the stranger, the foreigner, the outcast and those without a home are buried. This seems so poignant and yet so fitting. Judas is the patron saint of the disowned shadow within us, of the penitent sinner to whom we refuse compassion and also might help provide some insight into the hatred we project onto the religious and political outcasts who have done no wrong.

In the Orthodox Liturgy it says Let me not give thee a kiss like Judas. Perhaps we might say instead, Let me not deny thee like Peter! Whether 'guilty' or innocent may I welcome the stranger who evokes my fear of otherness.I am human and nothing human can be foreign to me. This is what God has said to the world in the Spirit of the Christian revelation. (Alphose Louis Constant)

And Judas repented of what he had done. I have no doubt that he is welcome in God's Kingdom


At 9:38 a.m., Blogger Larry said...

Sorry, I'm out of action, and may be for another week or so. Keep up the good work.

At 2:06 p.m., Blogger crystal said...

Excellent post, Jeff. I have a lot of empath for Judas, knowing how capable I am of making mistakes and letting others down. Have you ever seen this poem about him?

Saint Judas
by James Wright

When I went out to kill myself, I caught
A pack of hoodlums beating up a man.
Running to spare his suffering, I forgot
My name, my number, how my day began,
How soldiers milled around the garden stone
And sang amusing songs; how all that day
Their javelins measured crowds; how I alone
Bargained the proper coins, and slipped away.

Banished from heaven, I found this victim beaten,
Stripped, kneed, and left to cry. Dropping my rope
Aside, I ran, ignored the uniforms:
Then I remembered bread my flesh had eaten,
The kiss that ate my flesh. Flayed without hope,
I held the man for nothing in my arms.

Added: 2 Dec 2001 | Last Read:

At 4:54 p.m., Blogger jeff said...

No I haven't seen the poem Crystal. thankyou for it...it is wonderful.

And there is the possibility of a rediscovered ancient Coptic text being published in the next year called The Gospel of Judas (not to be confused with a novel of the same name).

Here's the link


At 6:00 a.m., Blogger Twyla said...

Patron saint of the outsider. I like that. I've never really considered Judas this way...he has always been so demonized. Thanks for bringing him back to human for me. I see that I have much to relate to in him.

At 9:32 a.m., Blogger Larry said...

There are those who believe that Jesus delegated Judas for this task; then the disciples, including the evangelists, got hot and bothered about what he had don't (their own guilty consciences were involved), and virtually editorialized Judas into hell. We all believe the light we're given.


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