Judas and Victorian Triumphalism

Wednesday 23rd March 2005
Wednesday of Holy Week
Holy Trinity, Hurstpierpoint
Isaiah 50:4-9
Matthew 26:14-25

In this Holy Week sequence of talks about some of the people who enrich the passion narrative we come again to Judas; and it is so easy to demonise him and scapegoat him so that he is left to carry all the burden of betrayal.

As I said yesterday, Judas was the one amongst Jesus' followers who looked after the money and it is alleged that he sometimes stole from the common fund though, as Father John rightly points out, this looks like an attempt to make him look even worse than he was.

But, of course, the much worse charge against Judas is that he betrayed Our Lord. When it came to understanding Jesus, Judas got hold of the wrong end of the stick; he could not have got it more wrong; but he wasn't on his own. The Gospels are littered with accounts of the Disciples misunderstanding Jesus, even St. Peter who was to be Jesus' successor on earth, got things so badly wrong that Jesus used that very strong rebuke: "Get behind me, Satan".

Judas thought that Jesus was going to be a great earthly ruler; he was going to fix everything, particularly the Romans. The Jews would get back their country given to them by God after the Exodus; and they would be able to re-live the glory Days of David and Solomon.

When Judas saw that this was not going to happen (and perhaps his misfortune was that he was the first to see it), like many before and since he turned on his leader as the betrayer of the betrayer.

But don't we do that? Don't we hanker for the glory days of the high Victorian Christian Church when the pews were full and the Laws which came out of Parliament were inspired by Christian values? Of course it wasn't really like that; it was an illusion. The stories of David and Solomon that Judas knew were greatly embellished by later writers just as the Victorian era is retrospectively glorified; the pews were far from full and the laws allowed all kinds of abuse of the poor and the weak.

So we must be careful not to hanker after something that never actually existed; but there is an even more important point than that. Perhaps we are being called upon to witness to Christ in the manner of the early Church. We may not face physical torture and martyrdom but Christianity in Western Europe is increasingly met with scorn or, much worse, indifference. Like Judas, we are tempted to want something different, something more splendid, more powerful, more comfortable but the mission given to us may be to bear witness in a hostile world, without the panoply of a united church and state which ran, for better and for worse, from the conversion of Constantine to the end of the 19th Century. For myself I think that the union of church and state by Constantine was the worst thing that has ever happened to Christ's church on earth.

Perhaps our lot is to huddle in the small chapels of large, empty churches, as we are doing now; perhaps our lot is to hang on for dear life, for Christ's dear life and death; perhaps we will see a new dawn but perhaps we are living in perpetual twilight. Who knows?

But whatever our condition, we must resist the temptation of Judas who wanted Christ to conform to his own view of Him. This is our day in Holy Week to humble ourselves in preparation for the Cross, To listen every morning as Isaiah did, to accept the Christian witness that Jesus has willed for us and, whatever it is, to be content in Him