Luke 22:1-6 (CEV)
1The Festival of Thin Bread, also called Passover, was near. 2 The chief priests and the teachers of the Law of Moses were looking for a way to get rid of Jesus, because they were afraid of what the people might do. 3 Then Satan entered the heart of Judas Iscariot, who was one of the twelve apostles.
4 Judas went to talk with the chief priests and the officers of the temple police about how he could help them arrest Jesus. 5 They were very pleased and offered to pay Judas some money. 6 He agreed and started looking for a good chance to betray Jesus when the crowds were not around.
Why do we betray each other?
Why does someone go off and have an affair? Or someone else do something to ‘stab a friend in the back’? How does someone stand up week after week in an organization calling for everyone to pitch in and be part of the team while they skim money on the side? How does someone rail about the utter importance of moral absolutes but then side with systems of power and oppression for the equivalent of a quarter of a year’s salary?
How can we love somebody, spend time with that person, care for that person, and then seemingly turn on them?
Theologians seem to rush through this bit of Luke in their eagerness to get to the excitement of what they call ‘salvation’, but as humans I think we need to stop and dwell on this a little bit, because betrayal is all around us.
Its existence makes it hard for us to trust.
Its existence makes it hard for us to hope.
Its existence makes it easier for us to choose betrayal ourselves.
But – like everything else – I am convinced that betrayal happens for a reason.
Our passage says that “Satan entered the heart of Judas …” but I’m pretty sure Satan didn’t stop there. You see, in my experience when Satan shows up it’s usually with stories – with memories and impressions. Satan ‘stirs the pot’ of our discontents and of our fears and leaves us telling a story about those around us that says we have been grossly mistreated, that we have been duped, that we have been abandoned, that we have been hard-done by.
In other words, Satan takes the story of what has been happening to us and twists it and perverts it, lies about it and even hides bits of it until it looks nothing like what it started out as – and then tries to convince us that this is the truth.
We’re not told why Judas decided to betray Jesus. Maybe it was because he had been spoiling for a violent revolution and was starting to realize Jesus was never going to deliver, but that killing him might give Judas the spark to start something big. Maybe it was because he felt betrayed or left out of something important that had happened – sent off on a few too many errands and missing a few too many of the ‘big events’ of Jesus’ ministry and the resentment started to grow. Maybe he came from the religious elite and started to feel like Jesus was picking on his people. We don’t actually know.
But what we do know is that if it’s possible for Satan to do this with Judas – who has spent three years walking right next to Jesus, trusted with the knowledge of everything that went in and out of the collective money box, privy to almost every word of Jesus’ teachings and witness to most or even all of his miracles – then it might be possible for you and me.
Which begs the question: how do we guard ourselves against becoming people of betrayal?
First of all, we practice being radical truth-tellers with ourselves. We get used to asking ourselves why we reacted the way that we did. Often we will find that the reasons for our reactions have little to do with the circumstances directly in front of us and far more to do with experiences in the past that we have yet to resolve.
Secondly, we practice resolving issues fully as soon as we become aware of them. Matthew tells us that as soon as we realize that someone is angry at us we should do the work to go and make peace with them. This is also true for ourselves – if we realize that we are still holding on to anger about something, we should do the work to deal with those places of hurt and pain, because carrying them around only ends up increasing the damage that will be done.
Thirdly, we practice deep and honest friendships with one another. If Judas had been willing to be honest with Jesus – to say, ‘hey, man, I don’t get it – I thought we were going to go kill some Romans?’ If Judas had been willing to be honest with Jesus and say, ‘I see the relationship you have with John and it just doesn’t seem fair – what’s he got that I don’t have?’ If Judas had been willing to be honest with Jesus and say, ‘I’m really worried that the chief priests are going to come and arrest you – and take us away with you, crucifying all of us’ then maybe the story would have gone differently for Judas.
Of course there were prophecies that said that someone would betray Jesus – but it didn’t have to be Judas.
Of course there were prophecies that said that Jesus would have to be killed – but they didn’t have to take Judas down, too.
And of course there will be opportunities for us to betray those around us – sometimes without hardly being aware that they are happening until all is said and done. But we can do everything in our power to work to guard against betraying those around us.
- When was the last time you reflected on your responses in a hard situation? The last time you thought about why you did what you did – and come up with an answer better than, “they made me do it?”
- Do you know of anyone who is angry with you right now? What would it take to make peace with them? How could you do that from a radically honest (no excuses) perspective? Are you holding onto anger about something yourself at the moment? Who could you talk to about that this week so that you no longer have to carry this anger around inside of yourself?
- Who do you have in your life that you can be deeply honest with? Who can you talk to about your doubts and fears? Who can you trust for their compassionate perspective in your life?
- Satan feeds on fear and hurt and discontent. Jesus is all about love and forgiveness and the restoration of relationship. In what area of your life do you need to lean into love today?