“The universe is made of stories, not atoms.”
I passionately enjoy people watching. My favorite locations include Sea-Tac Airport, Pike’s Place Public Market and any Starbucks. It is not lost on me that people are watching me as well, but I’m not bothered a bit by this revelation; I’m learning to laugh at the things that I regularly say and do that make me, well … simply me.
I also enjoy reading biographies. That’s because people are fascinating. Quirky. Pathetic. Wondrous. Perplexing. Complex. Funny. Inspiring. Infuriating. And best of all, greatly loved by God. Despite our circumstances he determined each of us would be born and live on this earth. And so that alone makes us valuable and worthy of each others’ attention.
As Easter nears, I like to take a moment each year to remind myself of the major players in the drama that is the Easter story. Judas, like so many others, provides a human element in a story that fascinates me — enlivening and enriching my involvement in a holiday that could become routine and secular if I were to allow it.
Not a lot is known about Judas Iscariot before he became one of Christ’s 12 disciples. We do know, however, that he was the son of a man named Simon with the surname Iscariot — thought to be taken from the Hebrew Ish Kerioth which translates roughly, “A man from Kerioth.” Kerioth was a town located in the southern portion of ancient Israel, not far from Hebron, and we can assume it is the town of Judas’ birth.
We know that as an adult Judas expressed both an interest and an ability to keep “the books” so to speak. With this demonstrated ability to manage financial matters he soon found himself the keeper of the disciples’ money, which probably amounted to hauling around a simple cloth bag filled with coinage. And least we diminish the role Judas played in Christ’s early ministry, we must think of the role money plays in our lives today. Like always, financial matters are as pertinent today as they were two centuries ago.
Judas was probably tight. At one point he challenged Mary, identified in scripture as the sister to Jesus’ friend Lazarus, about her use of money. It seems he watched Mary anoint Jesus’ tired feet one day with expensive perfume and considered the choice as wasteful. Had he been given any say in the situation it seems he would have sold the perfume and given the money to the local poor. Sound anything like the discussions that go on with your teenage daughter or among the members of the board that serve your local service club of choice?
The real controversy surrounding Judas involves speculation about his motives for betraying Jesus’ whereabouts to the chief priests, hoping to eliminate Jesus and his perceived threat to their power. Was Judas greedy, wooed by 30 pieces of silver? Was he jealous because he began to view Jesus as a celebrity? Did Judas become convinced that Jesus should lead a politically motivated uprising against the oppressive Roman government and frustrated when he refused? Did Judas long for an enlightened rabbinical teacher, only to learn Christ worked in an area of the divine?
Bigger still are speculations about the cause of the whole nasty ordeal. Was Judas a misguided betrayer or a preordained player in the event that would, from that moment forward, offer life everlasting to believers in Jesus’ offer of salvation? We will never know with absolute certainty this side of heaven. We are free, however, to speculate the issue and it is perfectly acceptable to come to your own conclusions.
The two indisputable facts are these: When Judas returned the payment in silver to the Romans, in a fit of rage and guilt, he walked away a completely isolated man. In such darkness he took his own life.
Although this is Judas’ story, it could be our own. Trusted, inner circle people can fall. It is for this reason that Jesus chose not to limit himself to being a politician or esteemed teacher. He chose, instead, to cover our mistakes and take God’s anger upon himself so we could only be seen as perfect. Perfectly forgiven.