Playing the part of Judas

At my home parish, on Palm Sunday we usually divvy up the parts in the Passion narrative from Matthew. It is a long reading — almost two chapters — and it keeps everyone engaged far more than listening to a lay reader drone on for 10 minutes. Each part in the Passion is assigned to a reader, and then we, from our seats in the congregation, read the entire narrative.

I like this tradition. It pulls everyone in the congregation into the Passion of Christ. But, the uncomfortable bit about it is, someone has to read the part of Judas.

Naturally, if we claim to follow Christ, we don’t want to lay claim to the part of Judas. But, as we make our way through Holy Week, as we near the end of our Lenten journey and prepare for the cross, I think we have to ask ourselves: How have I played the part of Judas?

We don’t want to betray Christ. But, we are human. And we are weak. And we will fail Him. That’s painful to admit. But, Jesus warned this would happen, on that last night in the Garden — tomorrow night, in our timeline of Holy Week, in Matthew 26:31: 

Then Jesus said to them, “You will all become deserters because of me this night; for it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’

Like Peter, we want to protest, perhaps a little indignantly: “Though all become deserters because of you, I will never desert you.” 

We know how that turned out for Peter. And who among us, without gross pride and pretense, can claim to be better than Peter? 

We like to wrap ourselves in assumed courage and faith. But, in the hour of trial, can we be sure we’d end up any better than the young man in Mark — it may have been Mark himself — who slipped out of his clothes and ran off stark naked through the Garden, rather than stand by Jesus at his arrest? I think, if we’re honest, we all may end up equally stripped of our pretensions.

In the end, all of the disciples fled from Jesus in that crucial moment. In how many crucial moments have we found ourselves standing beside Christ, when the world told us to run? To walk away out of fear, disgust or pride?

If we’re honest at all, I think all of us can find times in our lives, when we’ve cut and run from Christ, leaving Him alone there, in the darkness of the Garden, waiting for us to return.

And some, unfortunately, never step out of the darkness of that night — the bleak forever night of running from Christ. There are four words that really haunt me in today’s narrative of Judas betraying Jesus. Jesus tells Judas to “Do quickly what you are going to do.” Then, Judas leaves. “And it was night.”

“And it was night.” Judas cast himself into that darkness. We also cast ourselves into that darkness when we turn our backs on Christ. Peter went there when he denied Jesus. The others did the same when they ran. I think we can find places in our heart where we likewise have betrayed the Son of Man. Maybe in that hatred we harbor. Or that homeless person we pretend to not see. Maybe in the prisoner to whom we refuse grace. 

Betrayal comes in countless forms. But, in all its forms, betrayal always ends in that same conclusion: “And it was night.”

But, we do not have to stay in that darkness. Christ does not stop us from turning away, and does not force us to return — no more than He prevented Judas from succumbing to power lust, greed and pride. Christ always, though, is waiting for us — like Peter — to come back. To weep in our repentance, and to accept His love and grace.

As we prepare for the Last Supper — as we always should before coming to the Eucharist — let us examine our hearts. Where are the corners of darkness, caused by our betrayal? In what ways have we turned our backs on Christ? What stumbling blocks have we built between ourselves and grace? Let us find these impediments, and cast them out, that we be found clean when our Savior comes to wash our feet, and ready when He calls us to follow Him.

Lord Christ, help us to examine with courage and steadfastness the deep recesses of our inner being. Let us find and remove any barriers we’ve created there to accepting your love and grace, that we may be ready to come to Your table, to be fed in Your Body and Blood, that we be strengthened to love and serve you. Amen.

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