Judas was despicable, but my animosity for him is, at least in part, because he forces me to wonder what my price is. How much would it take for me to sell out? Most of us do not sell our souls all at once, but piece by piece. A compromise here, a concession there. Perhaps our betrayal looks more like Peter’s.
After Jesus was arrested, Peter followed him. When a servant girl recognized him and it looked like his friendship might cost him, however, Peter denied even knowing Jesus. If it hadn’t been for that rooster, Peter might have been able to rationalize his denial as self-preservation. After all, you have to look out for number one, don’t you?
Maybe we are like those who broke the palm branches that day, but were nowhere to be found on Friday. We try to avoid the situation altogether. If we avoid making a commitment, we can simply slip away without feeling any guilt or obligation.
G. A. Studdert Kennedy, a chaplain during World War I, wrote this poem:
When Jesus came to Golgotha, they hanged Him on a tree,
They drove great nails through hands and feet, and made a Calvary;
They crowned Him with a crown of thorns, red were His wounds and deep,
For those were crude and cruel days, and human flesh was cheap.
When Jesus came to Birmingham, they simply passed Him by.
They would not hurt a hair of Him, they only let Him die;
For men had grown more tender, and they would not give Him pain,
They only just passed down the street, and left Him in the rain.
Still Jesus cried, ‘Forgive them, for they know not what they do,’
And still it rained the winter rain that drenched Him through and through;
The crowds went home and left the streets without a soul to see,
And Jesus crouched against a wall, and cried for Calvary.
Perhaps Peter knew that, if it hadn’t been Judas, he might have been the betrayer. It was so easy to deny his friendship with Jesus. He didn’t think twice. He was only looking out for himself. Surely this wasn’t what Jesus meant by taking up your cross.
“But why then did it feel so much like betrayal?” Peter wondered.
Maybe that’s why when the time came to speak the Bible’s final words about Judas, Peter didn’t consign him to the fires of hell. He simply said Judas went to that place of his own making. (Acts 1:25)
That may be the worst fate of all. To be sentenced to live in the world we build with a cross-free faith, and cost-free servanthood may be the very judgement of which the Bible warns.
If you ever forget the cost of unconditional love, just remember how Jesus allowed himself to be betrayed by a friend and then accepted a kiss from that very friend the next time they were together … I don’t mean when Jesus kissed Judas; I mean when he kissed us.
Rev. Michael Piazza