Tuesday 11th April 2006
Tuesday of Holy Week
Holy Trinity, Hurstpierpoint
Holy Eucharist
John 13:21-33;

The role of Judas in the death of Jesus raises two major themes for us this week, integrity and humility which, at first glance, look as if they are contradictory. I will discuss integrity tonight and humility tomorrow and, hopefully show how they fit together.

Our usual understanding of integrity is now almost irremediably bound up with consistency which has become a cultural obsession. One reason why this subject is so difficult is that most people are not trained in formal logic and so they do not understand that it is perfectly possible to hold two apparently conflicting positions simultaneously without being dishonest; say, for example, it was correct to fight in country A but not in country B. The false logic is that the inconsistency lies in a basic principle about fighting; but most people are honest when they are not prepared to admit that there is such a basic principle. Politicians are daily accused of being dishonest because they hold positions like these which we think are incompatible. Now of course this is not a philosophy seminar so I will only say in passing that there is a wonderful proposition that says the more elegant a theory the less widely applicable it is.

What matters for us here is that we must be very careful before we attack the integrity of others, and that includes Judas. Last week I was reading correspondence about the attempts by Protestant reformers to retain the integrity of their reforms in the face of bigamy, by their greatest political supporter, Prince Philip of Hesse. All we can hope is that we will never faced with such a painful dilemma.

Judas was clearly a strong, political character who placed a high value on consistency and who wanted to preserve his own integrity. From his perspective Jesus was behaving like the Grand Old Duke of York, marching his followers up to the top of the hill, most notably on Palm Sunday, and then marching them down again. What was required was a consistent line and ruthless execution. Events had been building up for some time and now the people were favourable, the religious authorities were split and no good purpose would be served by delay; you had to be careful of miracle fatigue.

How different was Judas from the other Apostles? Well, we know that at least one other, Simon the Zealot, was a political activist; and although the Gospels are naturally careful not to be anti Roman, Jesus was a charismatic, anti establishment figure and it would have been surprising if it did not rub off on his followers.

Faced with the language of reform on the one hand, and of unconditional love on the other, it would be surprising if the Apostles did not have a struggle to work out where true integrity lay. Unlike Judas, who was tragically wrong by acting prematurely, I expect that most of us would behave like the rest of the Apostles who did not take any risks but just went along with the consensus, keeping a slightly wary eye on the leader, until they all ran away. At one level, then, given the choice between Judas and your average apostolic coward, I would take Judas every time.

Except that, as I noted earlier, there is much more to integrity than coherence or consistency. At its heart is the widely misunderstood virtue of humility which we will think about tomorrow.