It is apostle time of year in the Church of England at the moment. On Wednesday it was St Peter and then today it is St Thomas’s day. While these were two holy men they are perhaps remembered for their weaknesses. Peter’s best known moment is his denial of Jesus, Thomas’ is his refusal to believe in the resurrection. But Jesus reaches out to both men in their weakness and restores them to faith. Both of these stories speak of Jesus’ compassion for his friends, his infinite forgiveness and patience and his determination to maintain his friendships with his closest companions. These stories bring us comfort, encourage us to forgive ourselves and allow us to trust that despite our imperfection we can be counted as followers of Jesus.
But with Judas things are a little different. Despite the fact that Judas was called as an apostle, spent time with Jesus and was part of his inner circle we seem to believe that his sin was not forgiven, despite his repentance, after betraying his friend for 30 coins there is no reconciliation. His story ends with him hanging himself.
I have to admit I did not have many quiet moments on my recent ‘silent retreat’. I could not stop myself being involved in the planning and preparation for the launch of the Love Your Neighbour campaign last Friday. But in both the Eucharist services I went to, one word jumped out at me as if it were spoken in neon. It is contained in a sentence I have heard at every communion I go to – it is simply this: ‘He took the cup and said: “Drink this all of you..”‘ The words Jesus said to his disciples at the Last Supper. My word was ‘all‘. And for the first time I realised somewhere deep, that ‘all ‘included Judas, already known by Jesus as his betrayer, who was sitting round the table at the Last Supper. If Judas the betrayer had been included in this meal of communion, which we call a ‘foretaste of the heavenly banquet’, could it be possible that he was included in heaven? Could there have been a reconciliation and restoration for Judas as there was for Thomas and Peter?
If you grow up as a Christian, Judas is really only seen as a pantomime villain, but of course there is much more to him that the whopping mistake he made. And even his mistake can be looked at with fresh eyes.
Over the years I have found the enneagram really helpful for thinking about myself and other people. It divides people into 9 types which can then be seen on a spectrum from healthy to unhealthy. I think that Judas shares my type – a number six that looks for security and will try to find ways of making the world safe by being part of structures, institutions and clinging to certainty and power. Judas’s preoccupation with money and his desire to be part of the establishment showed his lack of trust in the Jesus’s loving, generous and dynamic movement. Judas wanted certainty and security through wealth and association with the powerful. This is a dynamic which drives much of how we live (and vote) today.We have come to believe that by having more and being more powerful we are saved – we are sold an illusion of safety and security. I think I have always known that in some ways I am like Judas and therefore his final estrangement from God is troubling. He made a hideous mistake – his weakness and fearfulness triggered his greed and he sold his friend. But can God’s love reach into his darkness, the regret, the hell he found himself in and restore him? Is there a possibility of absolution for Judas? Could he now be reconciled to Jesus and feasting at the heavenly banquet?
The gospels don’t tell us much about the apostles. They are almost like figures in a morality play and perhaps in some ways the represent our own attributes, failings and strengths as we journey in faith. The doubt of Thomas represents a necessary step into deeper faith, Peter reminds us that we can get it very right and very wrong virtually at the same moment and Andrew reminds us that sometimes the most important thing we can do is enable others and then step into the background.
We doubt any of them are flawless yet they all have things to teach us. Judas acts as a warning but perhaps too his story reminds us that the very worst of us and the very worst parts of us can be included. ‘Drink this all of you…..’