Wednesday 12th April 2006
Wednesday of Holy Week
Holy Trinity, Hurstpierpoint
Holy Eucharist
Matthew 26:14-25

As soon as I say the word humility we all think of Uriah Heep and his false humility - all very humble, Mr. Copperfield!; and it is the mark of a great author that something of the negative side of Uriah's humility has survived in our view of its positive side. We associate humility with the publican at the back of the temple, contrasted with the proud pharisee, we think of the admonition of Jesus for guests to place themselves at the bottom of the table.

There is no doubt that there is a certain pallid virtue in rendering oneself socially obscure but I take humility to be a much more profound virtue; I take it to mean that we put ourselves into a right relationship with God; that no matter what our ambitions and achievements may be, nothing is possible without God; it is through God's gift that we do good in this world.

The problem for Judas was that he put his own sense of integrity and commitment above that of Jesus. The relationship got out of proportion; Judas might have thought that Jesus was either a poor tactician or that He had completely lost it but what was much more serious was the escalation from tactical disagreement to contempt. At that point the contempt completely took over; it became even more important than the disagreement; the cause of the Messiah, however defined, was put into the shade by this blazing animosity.

And just as the fire of contempt blazed so suddenly, so, it burned itself out; but too late. Judas might still have thought that he was right about tactics but he knew he had betrayed his Lord and Master; and his friend.

There is one aspect of humility which is special to this week which Judas could not have grasped; and that is the humility of the Cross. When we say that Jesus humbled himself we do not mean that He abased Himself or held Himself to be less than He was; it does not mean that He undertook something which He thought was shaming although almost everybody else thought His death was shaming, what it means is that as fully man, Jesus put Himself in a right relationship with the Father just as we must if we are to be truly humble.

It seems to me from reading the accounts of Judas and Jesus that we are all perilously close to the man we now unthinkingly vilify. We like to draw very firm lines between the wicked and the good; that is why there is such a social pressure to put convicted people into prison rather than in community service. If we rub shoulders with the convicted we all too easily discover how like we are to them. Of course we will never do anything as drastic as Judas but I wonder how often at dinner parties we follow in the footsteps of St. Peter in order to avoid friction.

The problem of integrity and consistency is that they become obsessive; we have to re-write our ethics and our history so that we can live with ourselves. We are so busy trying to live with ourselves, and this is the ultimate problem for Judas, that we end up valuing this more than living with God.

The betrayal of Judas is so sharp compared with our own subtleties. Our integrity would never allow us to be outright traitors but our lack of humility and our narrow view of integrity might easily lead us into more insidious treacheries. In many ways we must be more wary of the apparent virtues of Judas than his obvious vices.