The thing about Judas

The thing about Judas is, he was at the table. The night he betrayed Jesus, he was at the table eating with Jesus and his friends. The friends included a person who worked for the state (Matthew), a person who actively opposed the state (Simon the Zealot), four fishermen, two pairs of brothers, a senior (Philip), an empiricist (Thomas), village men, city people, and various others about whom far less is revealed. They were all friends of, and followers of, Jesus. Judas was one of them.

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We know Judas as the betrayer, a dirty snake in the grass who sold his mate for thirty pieces of silver and didn’t look back. All the gospels present him as such, beginning much earlier in their narratives than the scene of the last supper. But I don’t want to focus on his treachery here, except in the context of the thing perhaps most overlooked about Judas: he was at the table.

Jesus knew he was going to be betrayed. That same night he told his fellow dinner companions, “one of you is going to betray me.” But he still shared bread, wine and conversation with his betrayer. The gospel writers report Jesus saying, “the hand of him who is going to betray me is with mine on the table” (Luke), “one of you will betray me – one who is eating with me” (Mark), “The one who has dipped his hand into the bowl with me will betray me” (Matthew). John spells it out even more plainly: “It is the one to whom I will give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish.” Jesus gives the bread to Judas, and as soon as Judas has taken it, he leaves.

Judas’s deceit stares us in the face. Why focus on the food, the table? The answer is, because as long as Judas was at the table, there was hope for him to be changed.Not just talking, but eating together, is key. Face to face, eye to eye. Pass the salt. More wine Matthew? Share the bounty. Nourish each other. One who dipped his bread in the same bowl will betray the only one who can help him, but they shared the same bowl nevertheless. Judas’s greatest mistake was getting down from the table too soon. Danger arises when the person with bad intentions leaves the room, but there’s a high chance it would have come sooner if he’d never been invited in the first place.

Once again we are shown an astounding measure of tolerance and generosity. Jesus doesn’t just eat with the ‘right’ kind of sinners: prostitutes, alcoholics, those whom the state has failed; but the ‘wrong’ ones too: the Trumps, Farages and Junckers, the Marxists, Clintons and Neocons. Who was calling him ‘friend of sinners’? Everybody, because he showed absolutely no discrimination. He dipped his bread in all their bowls.

At the end of the meal, Jesus told Judas, “What you are about to do, do quickly.” Commentators suggest this shows that Jesus was in charge of his own fate. He knew what Judas was going to do and sent him on his way. But the disciples didn’t know what Jesus meant. So here’s another reading: ‘You’ve stayed with us so long Judas, if there is any hesitation to leave, come back inside, and do it quickly.’ This is not a well exegeted suggestion, but knowing Jesus, I wouldn’t put it past him: an offer of one more chance of redemption before a brother walks away.

And another thing about Judas: he killed himself. What are we to make of this? Was this a just reward? A fitting conclusion to a desperate evil? Or was it, as Marva Dawn suggests, an ‘act of great repentance’?

Madi Simpson

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