Poor Old Judas

Sermon preached on Wednesday in Holy Week at Santa Margarita, the Anglican Church in Menorca

Rowan Williams is said to see the risen Christ as one who meets us in the enemy with whom we cannot leave fellowship – one who meets us in the enemy with whom we cannot leave fellowship.  When he was faced with dissident and troublesome clergy during his time as ABC he responded with patience and forbearance – too much so, in the eyes of many.  For Rowan to ‘kick the bad guys out of the church’ would for him, unfortunately, be to kick out Jesus himself.  So in the face of unrest, squabbling and dissent – even disobedience – Rowan Williams was tolerant, even though it pained him. 

As a priest, and as a parent, I feel the sadness and even pain when the children squabble and treat one another badly.  The worst squabbling on record is that of Jesus’ contemporaries with Jesus himself, resulting in the worst case of treating one another badly.  Except that Jesus didn’t partake of the squabbling, he patiently absorbed it, albeit with the occasional burst of sharp words when he felt that injustice was being done.  And as for treating one another badly, he was on the receiving end of the worst of that, without retaliation.  

I’m inclined to concur with Roman Williams’ views.  Christ comes to us in the most unlikely and unexpected of guises.  And offers us opportunities for repentance and redemption that all too often we overlook, undervalue, take for granted, or simply ignore through indifference.  The sad thing about the squabblers is that they often feel unloved, largely because they lack proper self-care and love.  ‘Love your neighbour as yourself,’ said Jesus … which means what about self love?  That it should be narcissistic?  No!  That it should be self-abusive?  No!  That it should be aimed at taking care of ourselves?  Yes – so that we can deliver our God-given gifts in healthy service. 

The model of not ‘kicking out the bad guys,’ to use that expression, is deeply rooted in the teaching-by-example of Jesus. 

Every year, we gather on Spy Wednesday, as it has been known, because of its association with the behaviour of Judas, sneaking off to do what he was going to do.  It’s almost impossible to overlook the aspect of light and dark that pervades the interaction between Jesus and Judas.  ‘Poor old Judas,’ as it says in Jesus Christ Superstar.  There’s Jesus, bathing his disciples in the light of his teaching, care and love.  And then there’s Judas.  Judas went out.  And it was night.  In other words, dark.  And what did Jesus do?  Nothing.  Well, almost nothing. 

Remember: hours before the death of Jesus, Judas ate with Jesus and the other disciples.  Jesus fed Judas as he fed the other disciples, with his body, his blood and his word.  When Jesus prayed, he prayed for Judas too.  When Jesus was washing feet, he washed Judas’ feet too. 

This is – still – so counter-cultural that most of us struggle to fathom what kind of love this is – or we ought to, because it is a kind of love that we struggle to emulate. 

How do we envisage a love that would feed the mouth that deceived us?  A love that would wash the feet of the traitor?  A love that could forgive even the vilest of betrayals? 

Honestly, we ought to struggle to comprehend it, because we are unable to replicate that kind of self-sacrificing love.  That’s why even within the church there is squabbling and unkindness.  We struggle to understand – until the point at which we come to realise that we are Judas, too.  And that point ought to make us thankful and altogether overwhelmed that, Judas ate too.  It doesn’t make it any easier to understand: how could Jesus have been so loving? 

The true test of Christianity is not about loving Jesus but loving Judas.

Showing love to someone like Jesus is so easy, but loving someone hard to love, a sinner like Judas is difficult.  That’s what ‘following Jesus’ is all about.

Judas seems to have embraced commitment to Jesus wholeheartedly – perhaps that’s what was behind his actions, according to some.  But he was very much human.  Tragically so, I suppose.  Perhaps that’s why Jesus was fond of him.  And then, in Judas we see ourselves.  After all, human as we are, with all that entails, we are loved by God and we are the hope of God.  

Here we are confronted by two very different responses to Jesus.  He has just washed the feet of the disciples, and broken bread with them.  Now Judas goes out into the night, set on the path of betrayal.  By contrast ‘the one whom Jesus loved’ (later identified as the author of John’s Gospel) is shown ‘reclining next to Jesus’ – literally, ‘in the bosom of Jesus’.

At the start of the Gospel, Jesus is described as being ‘in the bosom of the Father’ (John 1.18, KJV – translated by NRSV as ‘close to the Father’s heart’). The picture of the beloved disciple here shows what Jesus’ mission is about: it is to bring us to the place where he is.

From beginning to end, this is the good news that John’s Gospel proclaims: Jesus comes to bring us to the place he shares with the Father.  As we draw close to Jesus – and it is a picture of great intimacy – so we are drawn close to the Creator’s heart.

But what of Judas?  Jesus knew he would betray him, yet still he loved him; he washed his feet and broke bread with him.  Here is a picture of what it means for the Son of God to be handed over: in his love for us, he is vulnerable to betrayal.  His love can be accepted in trust, or it can be rejected.  It demands a choice from all of us: to be led like the beloved disciple to the heart of Jesus, or to go our own way into the night, into darkness. 

We gather together, a collected assembly of sinful people, professing our weakness and sinfulness overtly in worship and word, claiming all the benefits of Christ’s passion (as we say at the end of this Eucharist every week), and our hope of redemption. 

Doesn’t that make us Judas, the beloved of God, given the seat of honour at the table and sharing his fatal flaw? 

Because we can be fairly sure, or at least we can ask ourselves the question whether we can be sure, that Judas had faith, freedom, even love (maybe especially love) and a lot invested in him by Jesus.  And it all unravelled.  Why?  His selfish will.  Which we share. 

We now are invited to a favoured place at the table; we are the ones in whom hope is invested.  The stewardship of God’s world and the life of God’s Word reside with us and in us. 

How many times have we received the bread from Christ’s table and walked away – turning towards darkness?  How many times have we, like Judas, not had the patience to trust God and to trust in God?  

One lesson of Judas is that we will be allowed to turn away without hindrance, and God will watch with sadness as we walk off, driven by self-will, still clutching the bread of life.  The other lesson of Judas is that Jesus still loved him and accepted him, despite everything.  The sad thing is that Judas couldn’t wait to see how much Jesus loved him.  May we be spared a similar fate.


  1. Holy Week and Easter 2024 | Anglican Church in Menorca - 2024/03/29

    […] normal mid-week service of Holy Communion from the BCP; with a sermon on Poor Old Judas – the Judas within each of us. 17:30, vespers for Holy Week, based upon Stations of the Cross, in the church of Santa […]

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