One of the many things that I love about being a progressive Christian is the frequent emphasis that Jesus is our brother. He’s one of us. He took on the fullness of humanity.
The joy and the hope and the friendship and the love.
But also the pain and the anger and the grief and the suffering.
Jesus, the One who was fully divine was fully human. Our brother. Our friend. It’s a beautiful thing.
Indeed, Jesus is our brother, but what about Judas? This Maundy Thursday, let us acknowledge that Judas is our brother, too.
Judas has been demonized throughout Christian history. He’s been called the devil. Judas is a favorite scapegoat among Christians. For 2,000 years we’ve demonized Judas, which allows us to think that we are so much better than that wretched excuse for a human being who betrayed our Lord.
But truth is that Judas is one of us. He is our brother.
Yes, Judas betrayed Jesus, but so did the other disciples, including Peter. They all betrayed and abandoned Jesus to his Passion, to his death. During the Last Supper, as Jesus symbolized his death by breaking bread and pouring wine for his disciples, Jesus told them, “The one who betrays me is with me, and his hand is on the table. For the Son of Man is going as it has been determined, but woe to that one by whom he is betrayed.” The disciples were confused and “began to ask one another which one of them it could be who would do this.”
Here’s my question: Why didn’t the disciples just look to see whose hands were on the table? They would have known right away that Judas was the culprit! I think the reason that none of them looked is because they all had their hands on the table. By looking at the table they would realize that none of their hands were clean. They each knew the answer to the question “Who would do this?” They all would.
If Judas is typically presented as a failed disciple, Peter is typically presented as the “rock,” the ideal disciple. But in his book The Scapegoat, Rene Girard states that “In understanding the Passion we come to understand the temporary removal of any difference … between … Judas and Peter.”
When it comes to the betrayal of Jesus, there is no real difference between Judas and Peter. They both betrayed and abandoned their friend, their brother, in his time of need. Luke tells us that before he betrayed Jesus, “Satan entered into Judas.” But Peter had it worse. Jesus himself once rebuked Peter, saying, “Get behind me Satan!”
Judas and Peter were brothers because they had a lot in common, including being influenced by Satan. Don’t think of Satan as a red figure with horns and a pitch fork. Rather, think of Satan as the principle of accusation, betrayal, and abandoning others during their time of need.
Peter and Judas were a mixed bag of faith and doubt, good and evil, truth and falsehood. And so are we, which means they are our brothers.
James Alison puts it like this in his adult education curriculum, Jesus the Forgiving Victim:
This I think is vital for us to remember: the presupposition of this course is that we who are gathering together, I who am attempting to pass it on, are, however well we may veil it, liars, fantasists, thieves, self-publicists, manipulators, addicts to phony reputations, to emotional blackmail, deeply self-deceived, muddled and sometimes quite vicious. The presupposition of this course is that it is people of this sort, the self-deceived, ones wedded to our self-deception and our deception of others, people of this sort who are being spoken to. It is as such that we are on the receiving end of an act of communication from someone who knows all that about us, is not taken in by us, is not concerned by how little good we are, and yet, even so, wants to take us to another place.
Jesus, our brother, knows all of this about us. He knew it about our brother Peter and he knew it about our brother Judas. And he doesn’t hold it against us. He knows it, and he wants to take us to another place. He takes us there not by punishing us when we fall short, but by loving us, just as we are, and inviting us to love one another just as he loves us.
In the end, there is one difference between Peter and Judas. During the Last Supper, Jesus said that his blood was poured out for “the forgiveness of sins.” The difference between Peter and Judas was that Peter could accept Christ’s forgiveness. We are all in the same boat as Peter and Judas. We have all betrayed and abandoned our brothers and sisters in humanity. We are all sinners. But that’s only part of the truth, because we are also all forgiven. We are all loved.
The question to ask this Maundy Thursday is: Are we prepared to be forgiven by Christ on Easter morning?