21 After saying this Jesus was troubled in spirit, and declared, “Very truly, I tell you, one of you will betray me.” 22 The disciples looked at one another, uncertain of whom he was speaking. 23 One of his disciples—the one whom Jesus loved—was reclining next to him; 24 Simon Peter therefore motioned to him to ask Jesus of whom he was speaking. 25 So while reclining next to Jesus, he asked him, “Lord, who is it?” 26 Jesus answered, “It is the one to whom I give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish.” So when he had dipped the piece of bread, he gave it to Judas son of Simon Iscariot. 27 After he received the piece of bread,[c] Satan entered into him. Jesus said to him, “Do quickly what you are going to do.” 28 Now no one at the table knew why he said this to him. 29 Some thought that, because Judas had the common purse, Jesus was telling him, “Buy what we need for the festival”; or, that he should give something to the poor. 30 So, after receiving the piece of bread, he immediately went out. And it was night. 31 When he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. 32 If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once. (John 13:21-32)
The Gospel of John draws stark lines, and catapults the reader into the heavens and back down to earth throughout the narrative. We are presented with the most elevated vision of Christ within the canonical gospels; the Synoptics vacillate between Jesus as a god-man and a man-god. But John? John presents Jesus as God, in ways that are undeniable. This is both good–we are presented with a beautiful representation of incarnational theology–and bad–Jesus is almost emotionless and seems so wholly unlike the rest of us who inhabit bodies. The Johannine Jesus is a mixed bag, at least for me.
And a lot of that has to do with Judas. My affinity for the only unsainted member of the original twelve is well-known. I’ve been plugging my book for so long I sound like a broken record, but it is easier than telling the story all over again. Judas, without question, led me to Christ, though, and I feel compelled every Holy Week to mention that early and often. We cannot and should not allow ourselves to hate or vilify during this time in our spiritual lives. It goes against the very nature of Jesus’ ministry, which is why I struggle with this passage. For years I hated it because, even though there is no Last Supper scene in John’s gospel, Judas is summarily dismissed. John claims that Judas allows Satan to enter him; the intimation is that Judas is evil itself. This is still the prominent view, despite Lady Gaga’s attempt to resurrect him.
It fits into John’s view of the world. Jesus is God. Judas is Satan. We have a choice to make. Satan can be alluring, can trick us, reside among us, even seem to be good. And while I do not doubt that evil is seductive and manipulative, I just cannot accept the idea that Judas is beyond God’s grace. It has always been important to me that Jesus allows Judas to receive the Eucharist. It has always been foundational to my own theology that there be no one outside the power of grace, and that we can receive it even in the midst of costly mistakes. And while I want to jump down the rabbit hole concerning the necessity of Judas’ action, I will wait until Maundy Thursday to do so. Right now, we’re in John’s gospel and the grace might be hard to see, at least at it pertains to Judas.
But is it? This bread narrative is really odd. If you notice, in the Synoptics Jesus says that someone who is dipping will be the one to hand over Jesus, but the dipping isn’t described in Mark’s gospel, which serves as the template for the other two; in fact, all the disciples are implicated in the action, in that they all question if they are the ones who will commit the deed. This has always struck me as odd. I mean, if someone were to walk into a room full of people and say, “In the next thirty seconds, someone is going to pull out a gun,” I certainly wouldn’t ask, Is it me, Lord. I’d be looking at the other fools to see who is packing heat. John takes care of this discrepancy, laying the blame clearly on Judas. Jesus hands Judas the bread that indicates his coming “betrayal” (grrr; the Greek text NEVER calls it this). Judas takes the bread and goes out into the night. Jesus then makes his proclamation about being glorified and glorifying.
This is a curious narrative, friends. And while I admit that I am trying to wrest from this complicated morass a reading that rescues Judas, I think that it is right there for the taking. Jesus gives Judas his body; it is ridiculous to think that the writer of John was not familiar with the Eucharistic formula concerning communion. Attaching Jesus’ body to bread, especially in the final days of his life, is rife and ripe with potent associations. We may not know why John does not give a reporting of the Last Supper, we can hypothesize regarding why John has made the offending bread so clearly fall in the hands of Judas. I think it is too easy to say that it is simply to make clear the guilt of Judas. And, frankly, that’s probably the biblically responsible reading. But Jesus connects the handing over of the bread to Judas to his own glorifying; is it too far of a stretch to say that Judas handing over Jesus is also a glorifying act? Judas receives the Body of Christ right before he hands over the body of Christ.
Spy Wednesday is dedicated to Judas going out and figuring a way to get Jesus into the hands of the authorities. For John, Jesus’ death on the cross is crucial. It is fundamental. It is a theology of the cross that we find throughout the pages of John’s gospel. Today, though, let us think on Judas’ reasons. Thief? Maybe. It has multiple attestation of sources (although not the earliest one). Disciple, undoubtedly. Part of God’s plan?
We will wait and see.