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Empathy for Judas?

by Gina Jenkins on April 18, 2019

I believe EMPATHY is a necessary emotion. It helps us to understand and identify with others.

But, what about empathy for Judas?

We don’t hear much about Judas until his betrayal of Jesus. Scripture describes him as a thief that kept the common purse and took money from it. It tells us that he complained about Mary putting expensive oil on Jesus instead of giving the money to the poor. And then, he betrays Jesus for 30 pieces of silver.

He sounds just awful.

But then we read that he changed his mind. He was remorseful and tried to give the money back. When they wouldn’t take it, he was distraught so he hanged himself.

What are we to think and feel about him?

Do we want to let him off the hook or condemn him?

Empathy could lead us to feel that his choice to take his own life is heartbreaking because he wasn’t there to see the resurrection; that sacrifice that was made for him! It was made for his forgiveness.

Empathy is definitely what I feel for Judas. Like Edmond in the Lion the Witch, and the Wardrobe.

My 3rd grade students are reading about Narnia. I don’t want to spoil it for you if you haven’t read it. . . but the character Edmond betrays his whole family as well as Aslan. Edmond is that character that you want to hate.

My 6th graders watched Jesus Christ Superstar this week. The movie portrays Judas as being against Jesus from the very beginning. He seemed to be angry because Jesus was making trouble and drawing attention to himself and his followers. Judas is portrayed as the type of villain (like Edmond) that you would want to cheer for his demise. But then Judas becomes remorseful.

Edmond is also remorseful.  – Aslan – the Jesus figure, sacrifices his life in the place of Edmond’s life. . .  Just like his life was sacrificed for us.

Maybe Judas is more complex than he is portrayed in the movie Jesus Christ Superstar.

Last Friday afternoon, a woman named  Rachel posed a question to Episcopalians on Facebook. . .  (which by the way if you’ve never seen or heard of it, you aren’t missing out. I often wonder who these people are that claim to be Episcopalians) but this particular post got me thinking.

It read. . .

“Does anyone else feel sorry for Judas? I do. I wouldn't put it past the Roman government to threaten Judas if he didn't take them to Jesus. Yes, what Judas did was beyond horrible, but he tried to make amends for his transgressions. I'm not condoning what Judas did, because it was an evil thing to do; I just can't help but wonder if there's more to the story of his betrayal.”

This is a valid question and one worthy of discussion. There were a few responses that I’d like to share:

 Jeff said, “Maybe Judas was trying to save Jesus? Maybe Judas knew how dismal the odds had become and concluded that the only chance Jesus had to survive was to get him into the hands of the Romans?”

Janice added, “I think we are supposed to identify with Judas in the story. He represents something that is in all of us... we are all Judas.”

Then Matthew posted, “I think any honest person has to say they empathize with Judas. Who among us hasn't made horrid mistakes that we would give anything to undo or make right."

The responses to the question try to rationalize what Judas did . . .  making excuses for him and giving him the benefit of the doubt. But how could someone do something so heinous to a friend?”

We also empathize because we have made mistakes, terrible mistakes. We have done and said things that cannot be undone or unsaid. We have experienced greed and power. We know that greed and power are forces that can lead us to betraying someone close to us. It can cause us to turn away from God.

Self-righteously, we want to condemn Judas. We don’t want to identify with his actions. Judas is one of those characters in the Bible that shines a mirror on us when we say things like, “I would not have shouted ‘crucify him.’” Maybe not in this moment. . . after all, we know the whole story.

We know the resurrection. . . but what if we didn’t?

Would we stand up for Jesus?

Another responder, expressed this well when he wrote,

 “God moves in mysterious ways. Judas was the agent of the betrayal that led to Jesus' trial and crucifixion, an action necessary for our salvation. I always remind myself that as in the words of the hymn, Ah! Holy Jesus, ‘I crucified thee.’ Thus, were it not   for the need of Jesus' sacrifice for us, there would be no need for an agent of betrayal. I believe in the brutal honesty that Jesus had to die for us and, thus, Judas had to betray him on our behalf. I am no less guilty than him and I give thanks to God for God's grace and never failing merciful care and love.”

We are all very sorry for our transgressions. Judas was so sorry that he couldn’t bare to live with what he had done. Jesus knows our remorse. He knows that we often know not what we are doing, especially when we commit those indefensible actions not fully understanding the resulting implications on others.

Our compassion and empathy is well placed with Judas. We are Judas. We were there. . . And we are forgiven.

As we come to the end of Lent, we can look into Judas’s mirror and reflect on who we are and who we hope to be in Christ.

I give thanks to God for God's unceasing grace, mercy, and love.

Know that through Jesus’s death and resurrection, you are forgiven and you are beloved. This is the great mystery of Easter!

Tags: easter, forgiveness, judas