Kiss of Life

What a gorgeous Passover weekend this is! It’s bright, sunny, and bird-chirpingly perfect. I have been easily distracted with everything else I can possibly do this morning, running from what he keeps putting on my heart to write.

See, I’ve always had this thing about feeling sorry for the villain. Don’t get me wrong – I don’t excuse hurtful choices or condone evil actions, and I do believe in appropriate consequences. But still, no matter what has been done, I can’t help but feel a sense of sadness even for the criminal. I can see the brokenness, pain, and loss. I can feel the darkness in their life and heart. I can smell their sickness and bondage. Try as I might, there are very few people I can see as unredeemable “monsters”. I want better for them. I wish they were healed and free.

I have lived a long time with shame for empathizing with those others revile. Even today, I struggle to write it for all to see. But I’m learning to think differently about it.

This weekend, I’ve been stuck on Judas. My heart aches for that man. And his story should be, quite frankly, more terrifying to us than it seems to be.

We see him through the lens of his last weekend on earth, and what others (looking through that lens as well) had to say about him in hindsight. I grew up thinking he was the worst person in the Bible. He is forever labeled a thief and the ultimate betrayer.

But remember! He was one of 12 imperfect men chosen by Jesus to form his inner circle. Just like the other 11, he left everything to join and follow Jesus. He was trusted enough to be the keeper of the money. He was actively involved in every mission, witness to every miracle, and lived and served with Jesus for 3 1/2 years. Until that Passover weekend, he appeared no different than any of the others. He looked like a PERFECT DISCIPLE on the outside – so much that when Jesus tells them very clearly that Judas will betray him, no one gets it.

Jesus responded, “It is the one to whom I give the bread I dip in the bowl.” And when he had dipped it, he gave it to Judas, son of Simon Iscariot. When Judas had eaten the bread, Satan entered into him. Then Jesus told him, “Hurry and do what you’re going to do.” None of the others at the table knew what Jesus meant. Since Judas was their treasurer, some thought Jesus was telling him to go and pay for the food or to give some money to the poor. So Judas left at once, going out into the night.
John 13:26-30

That’s what is scary. That one can walk alongside, act exactly the same, point others toward truth, so perfectly look the part…and still not know Jesus.

On judgment day many will say to me, ‘Lord! Lord! We prophesied in your name and cast out demons in your name and performed many miracles in your name.’ But I will reply, ‘I never knew you. Get away from me, you who break God’s laws.’
Matthew 7:22-23

I’ve tried to understand the motivation behind Judas’ betrayal of Jesus, and I have been struck with a couple thoughts.

  • Judas went to the chief priests immediately after being rebuked by Jesus. Judas was upset with Mary for anointing Jesus with perfume worth a year’s wages. He was given 30 pieces of silver, which was half a year’s wages. He may have been banking on Mary’s offering.
  • All the Israelites were looking for a Messiah – a leader to deliver them from Roman oppression. Most, including the disciples, expected that to come in the form of a military leader, not a spiritual one. Jesus was utterly disappointing in that regard (that time, anyway).
  • Judas seemed sincerely surprised that Jesus was condemned. I can’t help but think of the times Jesus “slipped away” from those who tried to arrest him. [When Judas, who had betrayed him, realized that Jesus had been condemned to die, he was filled with remorse. So he took the thirty pieces of silver back to the leading priests and the elders. “I have sinned,” he declared, “for I have betrayed an innocent man.” Matthew 27:3-4]

Judas betrayed one person with a kiss. And do you know what I find? Jesus still loved him – before, during, and after the betrayal. Jesus knew the bigger picture, that the kiss leading to his death would bring LIFE to those who truly follow him. It was in the plan all along.

He teaches me grace everywhere I look, and inspires me to stop labeling and lumping people into categories for my own convenience. He motivates me to look beyond the easy story and see what he’s really teaching. Judas’ story is a warning, a call to wake up! Be intentional about who you are following, and why. Check your heart and let him clean it. Don’t be the enemy’s plaything. And finally – embrace empathy. There is so much to learn when we stop judging others.