We kind of like a good scandal, don’t we? There are scandals swirling around us all the time and we remember the really good betrayals for a good long while.
If you like baseball, or at least like the movie “Field of Dreams”, you know about the 1919 Black Sox scandal where 8 Chicago White Sox players were accused of throwing the 1919 World Series for somewhere between $70,000 and $100,000. I wouldn’t be born for another 44 years after this scandal but I know about it.
Stretching back a bit further into history, what famous betrayal are we warned about happening in a couple of weeks? Yes, indeed the Ides of March will soon be upon us and thanks to William Shakespeare we’ll remember the betrayal of Julius Caesar with that infamous line, Et tu, Brute?
Scandal and betrayal capture our attention, and well they should. Not in a voyeuristic sense like you find on reality TV but in a warning kind of sense. An awareness of the danger of scandal and betrayal can be a good reminder of the danger of taking the wrong track and creating our own train wreck. A sense of “Don’t do that. You won’t like the inevitable result.”
The Black Sox. Brutus. Reality TV. Any number of scandals and betrayals run through our minds. And for followers of Christ the scandal that likely tops the list is Judas’ betrayal of Jesus. Judas. That guy. The one who sells out Jesus for money. God has come to the world in the person of Jesus Christ to save the world from sin and death and Judas takes it upon himself to make sure that Jesus is betrayed, tried and crucified.
Thanks a lot, Judas.
Judas is an easy one to dislike, isn’t he? I mean, he betrayed Jesus. For followers of Christ it is nearly unimaginable that a follower of Christ would betray him. How exactly do you betray Christ? That’s just not done.
Now, this is the point in the sermon where we expect to go down the path where I say that we are also responsible for betraying Christ, through our sin. Or sins, more accurately. This is where I say that we can’t point fingers at Judas because we are as responsible as he is for Christ’s betrayal. This is where I say the only thing we can do is straighten up and fly right. This is where I say don’t be Judas.
I think that’s a mistake and it misses the point of God’s love and grace entirely.
It has often been taught and preached that rather than killing each of us for being sinful as the Law frequently demands, rather than giving us what we deserve as the horrible sinners that we are, an angry and wrathful God kills Christ instead. God kills Jesus as a substitute for killing us. God trades in Jesus instead of dealing with us directly. That is the essence of what is known as penal substitionary atonement theory. Remember that phrase, there will be a test on it later.
I say that a little tongue in cheek but it is important to be aware of it. Because substitionary atonement implies not that we needed to be saved from our sin to clear the junk off the path in our relationship with God but that we needed to be saved from an angry God, a God angry with us because of our sin, a God angry enough to smite us and wipe us off the face of the earth.
Yes, God did give Jesus to die on the cross for the forgiveness of our sins. We say that in the absolution part of our confession and forgiveness. That giving doesn’t imply substitution. It implies a sacrifice on God’s part because God loves the world so much that he gave his only begotten son not that we be saved FROM God but saved FOR God.
That’s how sacrifice works. We give our own sacrifices do we not? We give a sacrifice of our time. We give our sacrifice of money. We sacrifice a lot but not as an appeasement to God to keep God happy. We sacrifice to give back to God what God has given us.
Which makes judgment of Judas something of a slippery slope. The gospel texts tell us what he did. He betrayed Jesus for some amount of money. The gospel texts don’t tell us why he did it. They give us no indication of what he was up to.
And really, Judas was probably a pretty good guy all in all. He followed Christ for a good long while at a time when this wasn’t always popular or easy. He no doubt loved Christ to follow him. And Christ loved and trusted him enough that he called him to be one of the 12. Judas was their treasurer, after all. Not to mention that Christ feeds Judas at the communion table, even while acknowledging that he will betray him to the religious leaders.
Judas might have been a decent sort of guy. Even so, it has been said, fairly accurately I suppose, that everyone has their price. But that doesn’t mean that every person will do any off the wall thing for money alone. Some folks might but others aren’t particularly attached to money. I suspect that age, wisdom and common sense come into play here as well. Each of us probably has a time in our life when we’d do something silly for money or a dare that we wouldn’t do now.
But when you bring in a different idea for a price things begin to look a little different. When you consider healing a family member from some affliction, the calculus begins to shift a bit. We may not fall all over ourselves doing something ridiculous for money but if it came to healing a sick child or a sick parent then our thinking changes a little bit.
The historical records outside the Bible and the Bible itself make it pretty clear that slavery and servitude was something of a thing in Judas’ day. Lot’s of things written about that. Now, would you view Judas’ betrayal differently if you knew he needed money to save a child from imprisonment or slavery? Would you betray someone else to save a child from imprisonment or slavery?
To be clear, the Bible does not suggest in any way, shape or form that this was the case with Judas. I only lift it up as an idea that we don’t know the reason why Judas betrayed Jesus, only that he did.
This is important and connected that to our earlier discussion of substitutionary atonement. If we sit in judgment on Judas then we sit in judgment on ourselves. And that defeats and stands in the way of the reason Christ died for us.
The real scandal of betrayal is when we attempt to take on the role of God and sit in judgment on ourselves. We can learn from our past mistakes and probably should learn from our past mistakes but what we can’t do is sit in judgment on our past mistakes. Our faith leads us to the one who came to save us and the one who came to save us is Jesus Christ. Jesus sacrificed himself for us, willingly and without price and in that sacrifice has forgiven our sins. To try to take that judgment on ourselves betrays the gift that God gives us in Jesus Christ.
That’d be a scandal.