CSI Jerusalem: the tragedy of good versus good

In the last couple of days, we’ve examined Judas’s possible motivation in betraying Jesus and why it appears that Judas didn’t intend for Jesus to die. A fair question now is, “Well, what did Judas intend?”

(In the interests of full disclosure, I’m probably creating much eye-rolling among the household guardian angels, all of whom were there and know what actually happened. I kept getting the impression yesterday that I was being told, “Uh, no.” But it’s hard when you can’t really hear them.)

Well, what else do we know about Judas? We think we know he was a member of the Zealot party, a radical group of Jews who wanted Rome ousted at all cost. From this, I assume he was kind of like my family friend who owned The Bunker, looking for signs, waiting for The One, keeping an eye on politics and waiting for God to work through it all to create some kind of regime-overturning catastrophe.

The only other detail we know about Judas is that he was the only one of the twelve who had a specific job of his own. Within the group of apostles, Judas was the one who kept the money. John accuses him of stealing from the common purse, but the fact still remains, he was the one keeping it, the group’s finance guru. He seems practical, and one of the few lines of dialogue we have preserved from him is that the woman who poured perfume on Jesus’s feet would have better served him by selling the perfume for a year’s wages and giving it to the poor.

Which implies that Judas was also in charge of giving money to the poor, no?

At any rate, the fact that he’s the only one given a functional position within the group of Twelve means to me that he had a certain ambitious streak. He recognized what needed to be done (“Someone needs to keep track of our money”) and volunteered to do it. That strikes me as someone who’s intelligent and efficient and maybe a bit ambitious.

Let’s tangent for a moment: Satan tempted Jesus at the start of his public ministry, and Jesus handily dispatched him. But throughout the rest of his ministry, Jesus faces the same temptation repeatedly, only through human beings. (There’s a quote in the Divine Mercy diaries that when Satan can’t act on his own, he uses people. Too true.) Over and over again, people attempt to coerce Jesus into doing more for show than he wanted to do: give us a sign; become our king; feed all these people; publicize your healings; overthrow Rome.

These things would all have been good in and of themselves, but that’s the worst trick of the enemy: to tell us to take something that if only we waited for it, God would give to us anyway. It’s worked since Eden because on the surface, the things we’re being tempted with are good things. We’re just being told to take them for ourselves before we’re ready. But that’s a future post.

Satan keeps coming at Jesus throughout his ministry trying to force him to go public, either by having people attempt to coerce him into working signs or being their king, or by having demons announce his name and his purpose. Jesus has none of that. But it’s my contention that Judas did want it, and Judas wanted Rome overthrown, and Judas thought he had an opportunity in his hands.

Being smart and ambitious and efficient, he saw the scene laid out before him: Jerusalem packed with enthusiastic Jews for the Passover; a crowd calling Hosana as Jesus entered; Jesus fresh off the miracle of raising a dead man; and the chance for an audience in front of all the temple authorities and the Romans themselves.

Pull the right strings, Judas must have realized, and Jesus backed by the might of a religious crowd and the religious authorities would be able to cast down the Roman authority in Jerusalem with only a word. Easy enough: Judas just had to get everyone in the same place at the same time.

Jesus, knowing Judas wasn’t coming after him to kill him, doesn’t struggle as the Talmud commands him to. And although he encouraged Judas to do what he felt he must, he would never encourage someone to sin, therefore Judas didn’t think what he was doing was sinful.

Ivy points out that Jesus had shown in the past he could escape angry crowds. He’d spoken before of the kingdom of God: let’s just have it now, with no danger. If it becomes dangerous, Judas figures, Jesus will just slip away. Ivy says it’s like having Superman face down the police. If you’re Lois Lane, you know Superman can withstand bullets and you know he can fly away if he has to, so why not set things up so Superman has to face them down. Make it so it’s “put up or shut up” time.

Except that Jesus, in the face of the arrest party, shuts up. The effect is like watching Superman shot with kryptonite bullets.

After the Garden, Judas watches as the plans crumble: this wasn’t supposed to happen this way! Jesus was supposed to rally his supporters, or bring the fight public! He was supposed to lead the crowds against the Romans! He wasn’t supposed to be condemned to death!

So Judas refuses to testify. Judas throws the money back at the authorities because he can’t stand what he’s done. He only wanted to help matters along, and look what happened. He can’t face anyone now: both sides think he’s a traitor. And in the face of knowing he’s destroyed Jerusalem’s only hope of escaping Roman authority, he despairs.

There’s no going back. Everything he ever wanted for Jerusalem, for Jesus, for himself, for his people — it’s destroyed. He destroyed it. The mission for which he gave three years of his life is over, and he’s the reason it’s ended so badly. The Jewish authorities are mocking him and surely Jesus’s followers will want to kill him. There’s nothing left, nothing at all. It would have been better for everyone if he’d never been born.

It’s the tragedy of good versus good, the good Judas wanted versus the good Jesus wanted. The good that God wanted. The good that Satan told Judas he could take for himself now, that he could seize for everyone.

And that, it seems, is the ultimate tragedy. Someone who wanted evil wouldn’t despair when he achieved evil.

Someone who wanted goodness… He would.

That’s why I’ve always had a spot in my heart that hopes Judas made it into Heaven. The hope that in the final instant, when faced with that final grace to choose mercy or to despair, that Judas made the better choice and chose the real good. But that we don’t know, and we won’t. We can’t. But God is merciful, and I have hope.


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  2. xdpaul


    But you are still a teaser. I have to say it was worth waiting for.

    I might add one thing – when Judas stared in the face of suicide, did he know that he could be forgiven? If he did, did his pride hate the need for that forgiveness?

    But as you say…there are some things that we don’t know. Don’t let it stop you from trying though! This was great.

  3. ivyreisner

    The Satan angle answers one other question as well, and that’s “Why did the Romans crucify Jesus?” That wasn’t their MO for upstarts. For one thing, when they did dispatch someone political, they did it quietly. Inciting a riot was not in the Roman’s best interest. Normally, and for the same reason, they just locked the person under house arrest until his followers got bored and found something else to do.

  4. philangelus

    xdpaul, I really can’t hazard a guess as to whether Judas realized he could be forgiven. I’m sure he would have been had he asked for mercy.

    I’ve always believed (rightly or wrongly) that in the final moment, we’re given that Final Grace where God looks right at us and asks us to choose. Do we choose to reach out for God, or do we stay wrapped around ourselves? And our lives are in effect a training ground for that final moment when we have to make that decision, a decision which comes from years of practice of reaching beyond ourselves or staying firmly planted in our own desires. I don’t know.

    Ivy, based on the Gospel accounts, it seems as if the Romans feared an uprising if they *didn’t* execute Jesus more than if they did. Assuming a really vocal crowd claiming that Jesus was mocking their religion and needed to die, I can see where Pilate might have figured, “Look, it’s one more execution. I hate to do this, but the odds are that if I turn him free, one of these lunatics is going to do him in anyhow, and if I only lock him up, they may storm the prison to kill him. It’s cleaner this way.”

    BTW, Paul *did* get the “locked up for life” treatment for doing essentially what Jesus was doing, but there’s at least one instance in Acts of the Apostles where it looks as if the religious authorities were trying to coerce Rome into executing him too.

  5. knit_tgz

    “that’s the worst trick of the enemy: to tell us to take something that if only we waited for it, God would give to us anyway.”

    The story of Sarah and her misguided attempt to have a child through Agar comes to mind.

    About Paul getting locked up instead of executed: he was a Roman citizen, by birth. He had different rights.

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