Passiontide

During Passiontide, over the centuries, much conjecture has been poured out by preachers and others concerning the motives of Judas (I’ve done it myself before). Most of it has been entirely pointless. We shall never know the full story this side of heaven. All we do have is the Biblical record in which the whole Gospel narrative is underscored by Judas’ action. In fact, the Gospel writers considered it so serious as to mention it over 30 times between the four of them. Yet careful reading of the narratives shows that his leading of Jesus’ captors to Gethsemane was largely incidental to the train of events, in which it appears that Jesus Himself was the initiator. Nevertheless, much has been made of it. Thomas Cranmer, you can see, holds it up as a warning in the first Exhortation included in the Communion Service in the Book of Common Prayer – salutary reading in an idle moment, should you have a Prayer Book to hand.

St Luke has his own answer, which Cranmer indeed followed: Judas betrayed Jesus because Satan entered into him. Now that might lead us to ask by what error of judgement, or flaw of character, did Judas give Satan the latch key to his soul?

But where it really takes us is to two things: first is to see Judas as a victim in the cosmic war as the two metaphorical kingdoms of God and Satan clashed as the campaign waged by Jesus climaxed in His triumphal victory and vindication in the defeat of our final enemy; death. This is what has been the bedrock of the Christian faith from the beginning. Take that away and faith in Christ is shorn of its power to save. Sadly for Judas, he was never able to cleanse his soul by repentance, as Peter and the others who deserted Jesus found.

Secondly, we need to examine our own security; to check where our own “latch key” is kept. Hymns with sentiments like ‘Onward Christian soldiers’ or ‘Stand up, stand up for Jesus’ might be somewhat out of fashion in many parts of today’s Church with its “touchy/feely” approach to Christianity, but they reflect the Church’s historical witness, which we do well to note. To pick just one verse, take verse 4 of the latter hymn, which reflecting the words of St Paul concerning the whole armour of God in Ephesians 6 reads:

Stand up, stand up for Jesus!

Stand in His strength alone;

the arm of flesh will fail you,

ye dare not trust your own.

Put on the Gospel armour,

each piece put on with prayer;”

With all of these, take the shield of faith”, says Paul, “with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one.”

That is what Judas never had – the shield of faith. He is held up to us as a warning which we need to take seriously. As we enter Passion-tide there is no better time to reflect upon it.




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