Judas is misunderstood. We revile him as a traitor, a man of greed and connivance, handing over his beloved friend for a sum of money. And there is truth to this. But when I read about Judas, I also see a man so wracked with guilt as to take his own life--an unrepentant traitor consumed by greed would not be so bothered. Given the political climate of the day, and the fact that even among Jesus' twelve closest disciples, there were at least a few who held radical, and maybe even violent ideas about the role of the Messiah which they expected Jesus to fill. Here, Judas is not alone in his mistaken understanding of what Jesus was really about. And in that misunderstanding, he took matters into his own hands, probably not fully understanding the ramifications of what he was doing, perhaps hoping that seeing their leader arrested and in chains, his fellow disciples would rise up in rebellion and start a new holy war to free Israel. To say he miscalculated is an understatement. And perhaps therein lies the guilt he would carry the next few days.
Peter is misunderstood. We rebuke Peter for his brash action in the garden, drawing a sword to strike at a soldier. And then later, in the courtyard where Jesus awaited his trial, Peter, scared and alone, denies his association with Jesus three times in the course of the night. But we forget that Peter was the only one who had the courage to even come that close. All of the disciples slept while Jesus prayed, and all of them scattered when Jesus was taken away. Peter alone made his way to see where Jesus was. Maybe he was trying to work himself into the nerve to use that sword again, backing down whenever someone recognised him. He was brash, he was foolish, and he denied Christ. But at least he was there.
How many of us are Judas or Peter from time to time? How many of us are sure that we know what is best, and act hastily in our impatience with the Lord? How many of us take an earthly reward for what we think is the right thing, only to realize that Christ has other plans?
Or how many of us strike out against our enemies when Christ is shouting for us to lay our weapons down? How many of us scatter and hide? How many of us deny Christ in our actions because our hearts are too weak for the consequences of standing with Him?
On this, the morning of Christ's execution, I think about how often my own life mirrors the subversive expectations of Judas, believing Christ to be one way, and acting on my own instincts rather than trusting that Christ knows what He is doing after all. I wonder how many times I have answered my enemies with anger and retaliation instead of patience and love, and how often I have failed to stand with my condemned Savior because I don't have what it takes to suffer beside Him.
And yet bravely, patiently, lovingly, Jesus endures the pain of disappointment in His friends, and carries that cross for them anyway. And lest I get too proud that I would never betray Him, never deny him, I recall that He indeed carried it for me. And He carries it for you.
It is not a happy story. And the story does not end there. But as with any book, you cannot skip a chapter because you don't like to read it. Jesus wins the war, but in these next few hours, it is good to remember that it is we who lost this battle.
Tonight the sun sets on a broken carpenter and His shattered dreams. And it sets on the people who failed Him then just as we fail Him now.
But Jesus is always a step ahead, doing something new...