Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Best Friends (but Not Forever)

I've noticed something.  Maybe you have, too.  The authors of the four gospels didn't like Judas Iscariot.  None of them had anything good to say about him, and John flat-out called him a thief.

I think that's the reason we get him all wrong.

This became obvious to me last week as I was lunching with my friend Robin.  She was surprised to find that, reading Beloved Disciple, she actually liked Yehudah Ish-Kerioth.  She started thinking that maybe she was wrong in identifying him as Judas, because he was a fun guy with a sense of humor and Yeshua (Jesus) hung out with him more than anyone else.  "No," I assured her, "he's Judas, all right."

"Well," she said, "then that's just one more reason to like this book. I never thought of Judas that way before."

Few people have.  Why is this?  After all, the Bible is clear when it says Jesus was betrayed by a close friend.  He himself quoted the psalm that prophesied this tragedy: 
Even my close friend, someone I trusted, one who shared my bread, has turned against me. (Psalm 41:9)
I don't know about you, but I like my close friends.  I even like my not-so-close friends.  That is (in my opinion) the definition of friendship.  I can't say the same for all of my acquaintances, nor my family members, nor my students.  But my friends ... them, I like.  So if Judas was a close friend of Jesus, it makes sense that Jesus actually liked Judas.  In my mind, that makes Judas a likable guy.

Betrayal is a funny thing (not funny-ha-ha, but funny-strange).  It can only happen where trust exists.  Where there is no trust, there can be no betrayal.  Some people think (because of the way John worded his gospel) that Jesus knew right off the bat which one of the Twelve would betray him, and that Jesus chose Judas as his betrayer, and that he never really got close to Judas emotionally because -- after all -- Judas was a scum bag.  If this were the case, however, there would have been no betrayal.

Let me use a parable to get this idea across.

Jim was low on cash.  He owned an expensive painting but he knew that, in the current economy, he couldn't sell it for even half of what it was worth.  "If only someone would break into my house and steal it," he reasoned, "then I could collect the insurance."  Jim was no idiot, though.  He knew he'd have to involve the police and that whoever stole the painting would have to be caught.  Otherwise, the insurance company (and the police) would suspect that Jim had stolen his own painting.  So Jim, being no idiot, decided he needed a new friend.  He started hanging out in all the wrong places until, sure enough, he became acquainted with a man who was known as only marginally honest.  He bought the guy a beer and invited him to go fishing, and within weeks the two of them were inseparable.  Jim's other friends were leery of Bob, but since Jim vouched for him, they tolerated his presence at their get-togethers.  No one was really surprised, however, when Jim's valuables disappeared ... around the same time that Bob left the state.  "He betrayed me!" Jim said again and again.  "Well," his friends replied, "next time maybe you'll listen to us."

Betrayed?  Hardly.  Yet this is the way so many of us have been trained to view the relationship between Jesus and Judas.  Now, I don't think I'm contradicting the scriptures here.  Jesus DID know who was going to betray him: one of his closest friends.  And he chose all twelve of them knowing that one of them was going to turn on him; he chose twelve men who had the capacity for betrayal, and he allowed himself to become emotionally attached to every one of them, accepting the fact that one of them was going to turn against him.  Many articles and commentaries have explored the possible reasons Judas had for betraying Jesus, but few have asked the more important question: why was it Judas and not one of the others?

At the Last Supper, each of the disciples asked Jesus who the betrayer would be.  "Is it I, Lord?  Is it I?"  I wonder how many times, earlier in their friendship, Jesus had looked into each face and asked, "Is he the one, Father?  Is he?"  Obviously, toward the end, Jesus knew it was Judas.  But did he know this -- would he allow himself to know this -- right from the start?  Or would that have negated the prophecy by turning a betrayal into something less painful?

I honestly think the whole betrayal thing started out as a misunderstanding.  Jesus said or did something, Judas misunderstood, and the rest is history.  Why do I believe this?  Think about it ... how many times in your own experience have two good friends become enemies overnight over a simple misunderstanding?  Do you think maybe this is the reason Jesus tells us to go first to the one who has wronged us?  To avoid a misunderstanding turning into a war?

I cannot think of another thing that's as painful as betrayal.  And yet, most betrayals could be averted by clear communication.  It is when we rush into reaction -- as Judas did -- that a misunderstanding escalates into something that destroys relationships, destroys marriages, destroys ministries, destroys careers, destroys reputations ... destroys lives.

I don't know you, but I do know this.  If you are ever betrayed, it will be by someone you love, someone you like, someone you trust.  You can easily avert that betrayal: just stop having friends. (Hermits are never betrayed.)  If that seems like too drastic a measure, then try Plan B: when someone you love says or does something that you don't understand, go to that person.  Listen more than you talk, and find a way to work it out.  Don't let a misunderstanding cause you to throw your best friend under a bus and then hang yourself.  Don't follow the example set by Judas ... who, by the way, was a great guy.  He had some issues, but don't we all?  Don't we all?

No comments:

Post a Comment