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Forgiving Judas

Just before Easter, Democratic political pundit and Clinton activist James Carville called New Mexico governor Bill Richardson a "Judas" for unexpectedly endorsing Barack Obama instead of long-time political ally Hillary Clinton. Capitalizing on this infamous name during Passion Week, "Ragin Cajun" Carville colorfully implied Richardson's political realignment was a breach of trust tantamount to the disciple's betrayal of selling out Jesus for 30 silver coins.

After hearing Carville's comment, I pondered Judas's shameful act, still the ultimate in treachery 2,000 years later. Scripture doesn't reveal much about Judas, son of Simon Iscariot. Judas was the treasurer for Jesus' ragtag band of followers, traveling and ministering with him, walking along the dusty roads that connected seaside to village, marketplace to mountaintop, desert to olive grove, local synagogue to impressive temple. As 1 of the appointed 12, Judas saw Jesus teach with authority, heal the diseased, exorcise demons, raise the dead, forgive the adulterous, celebrate with sinners, walk on water, calm a terrifying storm, even feed a starving multitude.

Judas probably knew Jesus much more intimately than the disciple appears to in the Gospels' selective narratives. Daily he witnessed Jesus' dedication to prayer, compassion for human suffering, disdain for religious legalism, devotion to his Father's will, love for his people.

But at the Last Supper, "the Devil had already enticed Judas, son of Simon Iscariot, to carry out his plan to betray Jesus" (John 13:2). What prompted Judas's plan? Was he upset that James and John, the "Sons of Thunder," jockeyed for favored status in the coming kingdom? Was he envious that Jesus shared such a deep friendship with the "disciple Jesus loved"? Was Judas disgruntled that Jesus passed him over by announcing Simon Peter, that blustery blowhard, to be "the rock" and foundation for the movement?

If I'd been Judas, I'd have felt hurt that Jesus didn't invite me to join him on the mountaintop to pray; that he selected only a privileged few—Peter, James, and John—to meet Moses and Elijah and see Jesus' Transfiguration. Out of Jesus' earshot, Judas may have grumbled about favoritism. Behind Jesus' back, Judas probably whispered to other disciples about their leader's poor management style or misuse of resources. This resentment and bitterness took root and began growing into poisonous fruit.

Yet what amazes me most about Judas isn't that he plotted and plundered. What awes me is that Jesus handpicked Judas for a disciple, knowing of his ultimate betrayal to a horrific, torturous, yet necessary death. Luke 6:12 says, "One day soon afterward Jesus went to a mountain to pray, and he prayed to God all night. At daybreak he called together all of his disciples and chose 12 of them to be apostles." And one of those prayed-for, prayed-over followers? "Judas Iscariot (who later betrayed him)" (v. 16).

At one time or another, we've all experienced emotional evisceration when we've discovered (often by accident) someone we trusted sold us out for a payoff of boosted self-esteem or career advancement. And the betrayal is often with a kiss. I've seen the devastation after a friend has been smiling to someone's face, all the while backstabbing that person. I've heard tales of first wives making nice with their ex's second wife, then secretly sabotaging the new marriage. I've listened to stories of backroom gossip spoiling an innocent party's reputation.

I've experienced betrayal a few times in my own life. One painful episode involved a clutch of trusted neighborhood women who cared for my kids, moms who carpooled and coffee-klatched and moaned and groaned over life's ups and downs with me.

Of course, this pain hardly compares to Jesus'. Yet Jesus, fully aware of Judas's inevitable and irrevocable betrayal—of his enormous role in the cosmic drama of ultimate redemption—for three years continued working alongside him, breaking bread with him, teaching him, entrusting him with kingdom errands, even loving him. This realization stops me short in my desire for revenge; Christ's example leads me to the discomforting, difficult route of forgiveness. For if Jesus tells us to love our enemies and bless those who spitefully use us—and if he taught these kingdom tenets with the brooding and resentful Judas present—I have no choice but to heed Jesus' words. How much more poignant becomes Jesus' prayer on the cross: "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do" (Luke 23:34). If Jesus forgave his enemies—even one who betrayed him with a kiss—I must forgive the Judases who play a role in my life.

Have you ever suffered betrayal from someone you trusted? How did you respond? How do you treat the Judases in your life?

Read more articles that highlight writing by Christian women at ChristianityToday.com/Women

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