I was probably in my freshman year of high school, still new to believing in God and not so sold on Catholicism, when the nun who ran our religious education program asked for volunteers for a parade promoting the vocational callings of the Holy Orders. The sister wanted the Twelve Apostles and other saints to be represented. People raised their hands to play the Saints Peter, Paul, Michael (I was Confirmed Saint Michael the Archangel based solely on the picture to the left. Doesn’t he look like a super hero?), our parish’s patron saint, St. Rose of Lima and others. When no one volunteered to portray Judas I volunteered and was informed Judas would not be included. I had never given Judas much thought until the moment it was decided that the Twelve would be there but the traitor of all traitors, Judas, wouldn’t. I couldn’t help put probe the sister further, “Didn’t Judas leave his life behind to follow Christ?”
Throughout the canonical Gospels Saints Matthew, Mark, Luke and John refer to Judas as “the one who would betray him.” Is it possible that Jesus pulled Judas aside and said “Look buddy, I’m going to have to die so this whole salvation thing works out. I can’t just die either, I have to be betrayed and I have to die ugly. You have to be the one to turn me in.” And Judas the obedient servant did as he was told.
Or is it possible that when Jesus foretold the betrayal of the two apostles Judas made the choice to turn Jesus into the authorities and suffer the spiritual consequences so his brothers wouldn’t have to. What if Judas didn’t get along with the other apostles, or Mary or the other followers and he thought everyone would be able to accept his betrayal and move on to the business of sharing Jesus’ teachings?
Every telling of Judas’s demise ends in a horrible death; in the Gospel of Matthew he hangs himself, in the Acts of the Apostles he’s disemboweled and in the controversial Gospel of Judas he’s stoned to death by the other apostles. If he hadn’t turned Jesus in who else would have? Who then would have died a horrible death? Maybe the story of Judas is one of sacrifice and not treachery.
St. John writes in 13:2 that the devil “put into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray him.” I don’t think the devil ever forces or puts the idea in our head to act poorly, he may take delight in our missteps and failures but he doesn’t cause our sins. We’re human, we can mess up all on our own.
Perhaps the devil could sense the inner turmoil within Judas and couldn’t help but be there to witness Judas’ demise and by extension Jesus’ death. In my mind and heart Judas didn’t want to betray his friend but believed in Jesus’ teachings enough and loved his brothers enough to sacrifice his good name, his place as a saint, and his life to set in motion the death and resurrection of Jesus.
Many of the saints of the Catholic Church have lived lives of sacrifice, altruism, love, obedience and devotion to Jesus Christ, but plenty have been filled with a whole lot of floundering, fallibility and screw ups. Maybe it’s time we take a closer look at our brother Judas, Saint Judas in my book.