Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. 2 The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him. And during supper 3 Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, 4 got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. 5 Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him. 6 He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” 7 Jesus answered, “You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” 8 Peter said to him, “You will never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.” 9 Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” 10 Jesus said to him, “One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet, but is entirely clean. And you are clean, though not all of you.” 11 For he knew who was to betray him; for this reason he said, “Not all of you are clean.”
12 After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you?13 You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am. 14 So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. 15 For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. 16 Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. 17 If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.
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.33 Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come.’ 34 I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:1-17, 31-35)
I just don’t get how Peter is the good disciple here. I would have made a terrible Catholic because I just don’t like Peter very much, at least how he is portrayed in the Gospels. Give me Judas any day of the week; he’s a man I can sympathize with, a tortured soul who feels compelled to do the right thing, but is worried that the whole thing has gotten twisted. And I know that this is a personal projection. I know that I am making the late, great Carl Anderson into the historical Judas because Carl has been with me since the beginning. Before I ever loved Jesus I loved Carl Anderson. It is probably safe to say that he was one of my first crushes. He was beautiful, and that voice. My good GOD that voice. He was a blessing to us all.
But I also know what it is like to be on the outside looking in. I am a late-comer to Christianity. The suicide of my schizophrenic brother led me to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. Once again, I’ll plug my book.
It goes beyond personal obsession of projection, though. I think many people are troubled by how Judas is portrayed. I have spent the last ten years talking and lecturing about Judas, and I have been overwhelmed by the number of people who don’t hate Judas. The number of people who actually like Judas and feel sorry for him. And many of these people agree that it seems like Judas has a mission; he has been set to task by Jesus. The Gospel of Mark lends itself very well to this; Matthew, too, as Judas’s suicide is most likely an act of contrition according to Jewish law. (Curious? I refer you to Jay Sherman above.) Luke’s handling of Judas is in line with emphasizing the codes of behavior that will govern the newly-formed Jesus movement (see the parallels between Judas’ death in Acts 1 and what happens to Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5). But John. That pesky John. I covered much of this in yesterday’s blog, suffice it to say that John is a sticky wicket.
What I present is a resistant-reading of the text. I am not neutral. The name of my blog is “Rescuing Judas,” so I clearly have an agenda. But it is not duplicitous. Rather, it is aimed at moving us away from the vilification of Judas. While we are in John’s gospel this Holy Week, in other years we are in Matthew‘s or Luke’s, both of which feature death narratives (Luke by way of Acts, of course). John doesn’t kill off Judas, but he does make him Satan. He does insinuate that we should wash our hands of Judas as Jesus washes our feet. Too often we display glee at the prospect of Judas’ demise. We might be bad, but we’re not Judas bad.
We’re none of us clean. And while Peter comes across as somewhat of a petulant child asking for his head and hands to be cleansed, he is not the one singled out for bad behavior. Judas is the whipping boy. The bad disciple. The one without access to grace. Dante names the innermost circle of Hell after Judas (and the Jews, sadly, another perfidious outgrowth of Judas-shaming). Here’s my fat face talking about Judas in a 2008 documentary.
Is the purpose of this story to make us feel better about ourselves? Does hating Judas get us any closer to Christ? Are we contented to be like Peter, misunderstanding Jesus’ foot washing action? Do we not understand that Jesus is “lowering” himself to the level of a slave, here placed in scare quotes because I do not think Jesus would see such an action as lowering himself at all, which is kinda the point. Jesus performs an act that is typically reserved for slaves and women. I lament–a much more biblical word than hate–that John has painted the scene in such a way that Jesus lowers himself just enough that he still hovers over Judas. Ah, forget it. I’ll say it. I hate it. I hate that our tradition has this detail. And that it is followed by a commandment to love. Right. Love everyone except Judas.
So over time Judas has become the Jews, supposed perfidy itself. He has been people who committed suicide. And today? Judas is Muslims. Love everyone, but not them. Fear them. Ostracize them. Patrol their neighborhoods. Don’t let them in the country. Send spies into their mosques.
This is blasphemy. It goes against the message of Jesus Christ. And I’m going to go there. I don’t believe it. I don’t believe John. I don’t think this happened. I don’t think that Judas was Satan. I don’t think Jesus put Judas outside of the bounds of forgiveness. I think that Judas–if he even existed; again, buy the book–was part of God’s plan and had a role to play. And I don’t know how to love a Jesus who turns his back on Iscariot.
How then do we wrest meaning and spiritual significance from this day? We have to look for the Judases in our midst and see how we are failing to love as fully and as deeply as did Jesus. It means that we need to be careful that we are not drawing boundaries and forbidding people to come in. Of course there is evil in the world. Of course there are people who have lost the right to share our spaces (child molesters; rapists; perpetually violent people). Our call to love is not a call to be careless or gullible. What it does mean, though, is that we do not fall into the false idea that somehow we are better. It means we do not think of Judas as being representative of a group (Jews; suicides; Muslims); and if a feeling of moral superiority sweeps over us when we allow ourselves to look down upon others, we should probably examine that with a quickness.
Love each other. Jesus did not hesitate. And, dammit. That means Judas, too.