Judas: Traitor or Pawn in God’s Plan?
From the same discussions on the Gospel of Judas, I got this article from Svelte I would like to share without permission
from the author, (who is said to be a Jesuit). I am posting this because I believe an article on issues of faith
Related post: "A Question of Faith".
The publication of the text of the recently discovered Gospel of Judas is seen by some as a sensation. Supposedly this text offers new insights into the life and especially the circumstances of the death of Jesus Christ. According to this "gospel" Judas is the true and privileged disciple of Jesus. Jesus teaches him separately from the other disciples the secrets which no one has ever seen. He predicts that Judas will rule over the generations and that the star of Judas will lead the way. Why is Judas praised so much?
In the Gospel of Judas Jesus himself gives the answer to this question: "But you will exceed all of them. For you will sacrifice the man that clothes me" (the quotes of the Gospel of Judas are taken from the English text available on the internet). In a first reaction to the Gospel of Judas some claim that Judas is presented here as acting as a pawn in God's plan of salvation and that Jesus tells Judas to hand him over to his opponents. Thus Judas is no longer the traitor, but someone who did what Jesus himself asked him to do, someone who in so doing became an instrument in God's plan. What is going on here? This may well be a way of saving Judas from his age-old reputation as an evil person. But does this explanation do justice to the core of the Christian message?
We need to be careful not to be deceived. The so-called Gospel of Judas is neither a gospel nor by Judas. The specialists have no doubt that the historical Judas could not have written this text. This "gospel" rather originated in the second century; for it is a Gnostic text, another point on which the scholars seem to agree. And Gnosticism is a movement which really only came of the ground in the second century. The text is not a gospel in the strict sense of the word; for it does not deal with the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The time frame is rather during a week three days before Jesus celebrated Passover. Jesus is described as revealing secrets to his disciples and particularly to Judas. At the end of the "gospel" Judas hands Jesus over to the scribes for some money.
The text of the Gospel of Judas is characterized by tensions and inconsistencies. The first sentence presents the "gospel" as "The secret account of the revelation that Jesus spoke in conversation with Judas Iscariot". The first part of the "gospel" is focused on the disciples, not on Judas. While the narrative is framed three days before Passover, at the end the narrative time suddenly switches to the time of the arrest of Jesus, i.e., shortly after the Passover meal. Despite this time frame, in the gospel itself, Jesus is frequently said to be appearing and departing and thus suggest a post-Easter perspective. This is rather confusing for the reader. Even these appearances are curious. The "gospel" tells us: "Often he did not appear to his disciples as himself, but he was found among them as a child".
It is frustrating for the reader that at the crucial places in the Gospel of Judas words and lines are missing in the original, i.e., the parts which are missing in the original or which were so badly damaged that it was impossible to reconstruct the text. The statement where Jesus predicts that Judas will hand him over to his enemies is preceded by a passage most of which is missing. Thus is it impossible to understand this statement in its literary context and it becomes for us an isolated saying. How does the Gospel of Judas understand what has long been called the betrayal of Judas? The Jesus of the Gospel of Judas does not speak of betrayal. Judas is not presented as a traitor. Jesus rather uses the verb "sacrifice", thus giving Judas' deed a positive theological interpretation. Judas did not hand Jesus over to his enemies for money, but he had a deeper religious motivation when he did this. For in the description of the sacrificing, a typically Gnostic distinction is made between the body as clothing and the soul. Judas did not sacrifice Jesus, but only his body, the part of the human person which Gnosticism despised as evil matter. Obviously the Gospel of Judas considered Judas as a hero for sacrificing the body of Jesus, as he liberated Jesus' soul from the prison of the body.
But does Judas according to this "gospel" really act according to a commissioning by Jesus or the plan of God? This might be suggested by the positive presentation of Judas and the prediction of Jesus concerning Judas role in his arrest. But there are no explicit statements to that effect in this "gospel." The idea of Judas as a pawn in God's plan is rather projected onto the Gospel of Judas by contemporary readers as a result of a centuries-old theological tradition. This theology of the cross assumes that according to God's plan the world could only be saved if someone died. According to one strand by Jesus' dying on the cross the ransom was paid (to the devil) in order to liberate humanity that was enslaved to sin. According to others the offense against God which sin entailed demanded capital punishment for the sinner. Jesus is seen as undergoing capital punishment on the cross in place of human persons in order to save them from having to be punished. Moreover there is another interpretation which claims that Jesus had to die to prove to human persons how strong God's love for them was. This understanding assumes that people will come to faith if they realize how much God loves them. It is driven by the hope that love will bring forth love in return.
Throughout the centuries the Catholic Church did not canonize any of these interpretations of why Jesus died on the cross. But the idea that God is the ultimate reason why Jesus had to die on the cross, i.e., that according to God's plan Jesus was sent to the world to die on the cross is still on many peoples minds. Recently it has been reinforced by the rise of Christian fundamentalism which considers the "doctrine of substitutionary atonement" as one of the five fundamentals of the Christian faith. For some contemporaries this theology of the cross is still a source of hope, others have turned their backs on the Christian faith precisely because of this teaching.
However, the death of Jesus should not simplistically be presented as being demanded by God. The Christian God is a God of life and love, goodness and joy. God's plan was to save the world through Jesus' life and not through his death. Jesus' crucifixion was a criminal act which human persons executed against God's will. Humans thwarted God's plan to save the world, but the resurrection shows that God did not allow them to destroy his plan to save us. Jesus death on the cross was an execution for which humans, not God were responsible. Human persons have a tendency to run away from this responsibility and to look for scapegoats. They found scapegoats in (the Jew) Judas and then in the Jewish people. Interpreting Jesus' death on the cross as God's will, is a way of completely shunning human responsibility. Even a strictly historical interpretation runs the risk of passing on the responsibility to the Jewish authorities or the Roman leaders of 2,000 years ago. Jesus' life ended on the cross because he undermined the privileges of the powerful by his way of speaking and acting, by his care for the marginalized, by calling into question traditional religious and social practices which were hurting people. If Jesus were to live again in this way among us, he would certainly not die on a cross. But our society would also find ways of eliminate him in one way or another. In fact, this is already happening to people in our midst who try to live as Jesus did.
It does not make sense to present as will of God a criminal act orchestrated by human persons. It is also dangerous. One of the most effective ways of perpetuating human suffering in the world is to interpret it as willed by God. Only when we unreservedly dare to accept that suffering always goes against God unconditional and complete commitment against human suffering becomes necessary and possible for Christians. We need not look for explanations, legitimations or scapegoats for suffering. All that is needed is to fight against suffering and to alleviate the existing suffering.
Professor of New Testament Exegesis,
Faculty of Theology, Catholic University of Leuven, Belgium.
Related post: "A question of Faith".
posted by Jdavies @ 4/12/2006,
- At 4/22/2006 07:18:00 PM, said...
Does it matter whether Judas was a traitor or a privileged disciple of Jesus? Does it fundamentally change the message of God? Or is the issue more academic than it appears to be?
Posted by bayi
Jdavies lives in Quezon City, Philippines and has been blogging since 2002. A brand manager in a leading technology company and a freelance new media/web strategy consultant, he has refocused his blogging from personal, political & sociological observations, to marketing-related efforts and Internet trends that are relevant to his career and branding advocacies.
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This blog is a depot of thoughts and observations on marketing trends which remain personally relevant to the Author as far as his marketing career is concerned. Having evolved from the personal blog of Jdavies, much of the earlier work contained herein are laced with personal speculation, political views, and similar advocacies. These posts are being kept for posterity's sake and for no other reason. No effort is being made to claim that the author will not contradict himself from his previous positions or that such advocacies are absolute.
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