Copyright © Linda Roberts, 2007.
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47 While he was still speaking, suddenly a crowd came, and the one called Judas, one of the twelve, was leading them. He approached Jesus to kiss him; 48 but Jesus said to him, “Judas, is it with a kiss that you are betraying the Son of Man?”
Three years ago there was much abuzz about Judas. With great fanfare, the National Geographic Society had just released the text and translation of the Lost Gospel of Judas. This second-century writing focused on Judas and his supposedly special relationship with Jesus. Not only was Judas able to receive esoteric knowledge of Jesus, but also he was going to be one to “sacrifice the man that clothes [Jesus]” (56). What we consider an act of treachery was, according to the Gospel of Judas, that which proved Judas’s excellence. In typical Gnostic fashion, the human body is something to be escaped so that one, in this case, Jesus, could enter the world of pure spirit.
Though a few genuine scholars and lots of pseudo-scholars suggested that the Gospel of Judas revealed something of the true relationship between Jesus and Judas, the vast majority of scholars rejected this thesis (Note 1) The Gospel of Judas is a valuable source of information about second-century Gnostic belief, and for this reason is helpful to scholars of early Christianity. But the document has nothing to do with the actual lives of Jesus and Judas. What we read in the biblical Gospels is what really happened: Judas betrayed Jesus with a kiss (for example, Mark 14:44-45).
In first-century Jewish culture, a kiss was a sign of love and loyalty. A disciple might indeed kiss his master to signify the specialness of their relationship. There was nothing sexual about the kiss. It was the sort of kiss that a son might give a father.
I wonder why Judas chose to identify Jesus, indeed, to betray him, with a kiss. After all, he could have simply pointed to Jesus, or called out his name, or said to the soldiers: “He’s that guy over there. Nab him!” Yet Judas chose a kiss. Why?
Of course we don’t know for sure and can only speculate. I wonder if Judas was saying to Jesus: “I’m doing this because I committed to the coming of the kingdom. I am really committed to you, Jesus. But I’m forcing your hand so that you’ll reveal your true messianic ministry and call up legions of angels to defeat the Romans.” Or perhaps Judas’ kiss meant: “I once believed in you, Jesus. I loved you. I have up everything for you. But you betrayed me. You held out the promise of the coming kingdom and I bought it completely. Then you started talking about your death, just like a defeated man. And everything began to unravel, including my hopes for you. So I still love you, Jesus, but I can no longer support you because you betrayed me and our cause.”
From our perspective, it’s easy to condemn Judas. Few people in history have been more despised, and for good reason. Yet by heaping still more disdain on Judas, we miss the chance to confront the Judas in ourselves. What about our own mixed responses to Jesus?
How many times have we betrayed Jesus, not in the obvious and literal way of Judas, but in our hearts and actions?
How many times have we confessed Jesus as Lord, only to turn enthrone ourselves as the true lord of our lives?
How many times have we worshiped Jesus with our lips, not with a kiss but with words, songs, and prayers, only to reject him in our hearts and in our actions?
How many times have we gathered to worship the Lord, only to focus on ourselves and what we “get out of it” rather than on him and what we can “give to it”?
When I stand back from myself and reflect, I want to be completely devoted to Jesus. But in the day-to-day challenges of faith, the Judas lurking within me reveals himself. I too can betray my Lord.
O Lord, as much as I hate to admit it, to myself and to you, there is a bit of Judas in me. Forgive for the times I have pledge my love for you, only to reject you in the way I live. Help me to see where my commitment to you is mixed, where my heart is divided against itself. Set me free to be wholly devoted to you, even when I don’t understand you, even when I’m afraid that following you is too risky. Amen.
Note 1: For my evaluation of the Gospel of Judas and its significance, see my blog post: The Gospel of Judas — A Special Report.