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You're Probably More Like Judas Than You Think
Image: Giotto di Bondone
You're Probably More Like Judas Than You Think

We don't generally spend a lot of time talking about Judas, because he committed an unfathomable act of treachery. However, if we can step back for a second look, we may find a character who makes us squirm because he's just a bit too familiar. Before Judas betrayed Jesus, he was looking for a Messiah who would let him follow his own plans.

When Judas Iscariot, the disciple of Jesus, mouthed the Lord's Prayer, especially when it came time to say "Your will be done," perhaps he voiced this prayer with the tacit assumption that God's will paralleled his own. We have probably all been guilty of that sin before.

But what happens when God's will differs from my own? What happens when the fulfillment of the prayer, that is, the part when God's will is accomplished, flies in the face of my will?

'Shrewd as a Snake'

Judas may be the most intriguing of Jesus's disciples. He is certainly the most elusive. Over the centuries, Christians have characterized him, some maliciously so, in any number of ways. He was a heartless miser, a power-hungry schemer, or a green-eyed apprentice overshadowed by a more talented master.

Maybe, but maybe not.

Perhaps we should more modestly characterize Judas as a man who initially latched onto the magnetic personality of Jesus but eventually became disillusioned as Jesus's vision for the Messiahship began to contrast considerably with Judas's vision. And when Jesus the Messiah failed to fulfill the obligations Judas had imposed on him, he craftily bailed out when there was still time.

There is good reason to believe that Judas was the most perceptive—"shrewd as a snake," we might say—of Jesus's disciples. He may have been the first one to recognize that Jesus's intentions for the Messiahship embraced nothing pertaining to physical rebellion or military rule.

During their last week together in Jerusalem in celebration of the Jewish festival of Passover, on which occasion Jesus brought his ministry to crescendo, Jesus aggressively unpacked his teachings and did not mince words. As Jesus did so, he openly defied—in fact, condemned—the religious establishment to such an extent that he made his death inevitable. Jesus made enemies when he was in Jerusalem, and Judas, as astute as he was, knew it. It's possible that some of Jesus's other disciples also flirted with betraying their Master after their stint in Jerusalem. Within a few hours of Judas's betrayal, in fact, practically all of Jesus's disciples—even Peter—scattered like sheep without a shepherd.

When death is on the line, loyalty wavers. Unlike Judas, who knew exactly what was going on, the response of the other disciples evidenced their surprise at the betrayal, and their actions were clearly not premeditated. Peter wanted to fight, Mark ran away without his clothes, and John watched from a distance, while the others may have quietly left the scene.

Cashing Out While There's Still Time

We essentially have two options when God does not follow our plan for life: going our own way or readjusting our course. On the night when Jesus was arrested, Judas had previously made his decision to go his own way. That is to say, at some point in his apprenticeship to Jesus he rejected his Master and decided to cash out his chips while he still had a hand to play.

Unlike Jesus's other disciples, perhaps, Judas was an experienced player. The fact that Jesus designated him, of all the other capable disciples—Matthew the tax collector included—as the treasurer of the group's finances, suggests that Judas was shrewd and astute. Although, according to the Gospel of John, his serpentine shrewdness was not joined with the innocence of a dove.

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You're Probably More Like Judas Than You Think