The Devil's Peak in the dusk, 2014, looking south from the Hawker Road.

Being Judas

Week of Sunday May 5 - Easter 6
Gospel: John 14:22-29

Judas (not Iscariot) said to him, ‘Lord, how is it that you will reveal yourself to us, and not to the world?’ 23Jesus answered him, ‘Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. 24Whoever does not love me does not keep my words; and the word that you hear is not mine, but is from the Father who sent me.

25 ‘I have said these things to you while I am still with you. 26But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.27Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid. 28You heard me say to you, “I am going away, and I am coming to you.” If you loved me, you would rejoice that I am going to the Father, because the Father is greater than I. 29And now I have told you this before it occurs, so that when it does occur, you may believe.

The person who asks the question sets the tone of a discussion almost as much as the one being questioned. If the Prime Minister is at luncheon expanding upon social policy, and Alan Jones asks a question, we immediately begin to think differently about the conversation than if the exact same question had been asked by Malcolm Fraser. In the United States, we would change the names for this illustration; it would be Barak Obama being questioned by Ann Coulter, or Obama being asked the same question by Jimmy Carter.

And if we think it is most unlikely that the Prime Minister and President would invite either Alan Jones, or Ann Coulter to lunch, we are not alone. The thought that Judas Iscariot, of all people, would be recorded asking questions of Jesus at his farewell meal, during the expounding of his last will and testament, is somewhat challenging!

Some wonder if (not Iscariot) was the insertion of an early scribe who was offended by the very idea that the President would have Ann Coulter at table with him. But it could be that John very deliberately said the words (not Iscariot) himself, to make a point. (We should remember that neither the italics nor the brackets are in the manuscripts we have.)

What if John said, "Judas, not the Iscariot," himself?  (ioudas ouc ho iskarietes).

This would make good sense because we are reading Chapter 14 of John. Already in Chapter 13, Judas, son of Simon Iscariot, (iouda simonos iskariete) has eaten bread with Jesus (13:26) and gone out to betray him! The magnitude of the betrayal is highlighted by the fact that Jesus has just given him the Communion bread.

But this all makes Judas a little difficult to identify. Where did this second Judas suddenly come from? Who is he?

We might wonder if, in this case, Judas is actually a cipher for Judah, the son of Jacob, who is also the name of the nation. So Judea is asking, "Lord, how is it that you will reveal yourself to us, and not to the world?"

Jesus' answer is the same as his answer to us all, for it is the questioner who sets the tone.

Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. 24Whoever does not love me does not keep my words; and the word that you hear is not mine, but is from the Father who sent me.

Despite the Judeans, the rulers and shakers who oppose Jesus at every turn in John's Gospel, Jesus says those who are children of Judah, can still love him. That is, trusting and following him will mean that he will be with them. And not only Jesus will be with them, but also the Father who sent him.

But if you do not love him, even if you are of the Chosen People, it is implied that Jesus will not be there with you.

Loving is not some ill defined sentiment; it means to keep Jesus' words. There is a very definite message to Judea here: I have been sent from the Father. It is the word of the Father that you are hearing from me.  I am the One you were waiting for.

In this reading, the people of Israel remain people of God, if they wish; they are not excluded in the way we later Christians have so often shamefully excluded them. When they ask, "If not the Iscariot, which Judas is that, then?" Jesus is essentially asking them, "Which Judas do you wish to be?" Are you of the Judeans (usually translated in John as the Jews) who oppose me at all times, and whose real trust is in Rome, or are you children of Judah, children (as Paul might say) of the Promise to Abraham?

The Greek text is literally Judas the Iscariot, and some have argued that his name meant Judas the Assassin. The path of terrorist or guerrilla resistance is ruled out by Jesus; ie do not be Judas an Iscariot. (There is some debate as to whether the rebel Judean sicarii,  from whom the Iscariot might be named,  actually existed during Jesus' lifetime, so I would not make this observation the main plank of a sermon!)

What does it mean if John simply wrote, "Judas said to him..." and the Iscariot was inserted by a later scribe?

That John would do this does not make sense to us in our cultural context. Like that notional scribe, we have remembered that Judas has already left the table.

But John is clearly not trying to present us with a "photographic record" of events in his Gospel. He is doing theology. He is making a point about Jesus, and who Jesus is. This conversation is part of Jesus' last will and testament. John knows Judas has left the table; he wrote the book, after all. It is in his style to put Judas straight back into the narrative! Time is eternal in John, our space-time sequencing does not rule the narratives of John.

So it is not the least unlikely that John would have Judas leave the table, and then ask a question! Leaving the table is not a space-time act. It is an eternal act. It is about trust and the keeping of a word.

I said before about this question that Jesus' answer is the same as his answer to us all; it is we the questioners who set the tone. In this reading the question is being asked by someone who has left the Table of the Lord. And we have already seen the consequence for him: Immediately it was night. (13:30)

The New Revised Standard Version translates this as, And it was night. The Greek is more confronting; although it is already after dark, it is now immediately night.

John is saying that in leaving the Table of the Lord, Judas has stepped into a deep darkness.

Bill Loader comments this week

Who better than Judas Iscariot to ask the question in 14:22, ‘How is it that you are going to show yourself to us and not to the world?’ The answer has already been given in 14:21: Jesus shows himself to those who keep his commandments, those who love him and so are loved by the Father.

Even to Judas the Iscariot, Jesus offers a return to the table!

Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. 24Whoever does not love me does not keep my words...

Judas chooses not to keep his word and be shown. He seeks to force Jesus to show himself in another way. And it remains night.

I am almost finished with the words faith and belief. We have denatured them. I think of the word trust. Jesus is saying to Judas the Iscariot, that if Judas will only trust Jesus to be the way to the wonderful final end and purpose of life that is outlined in the Revelation reading for this week, then Judas can come back in from the dark.

Judas does not trust this. He chooses his own way.

Jesus finishes the reading by saying ...."the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you." As Bill puts it:

14:29 is really written for us. When it happens, you will realise this is so. Is it so? Indeed, what John sketches here is nothing short of the rationale for the Christian and the Church. John pictures those who keep Jesus’ word as dwelling places of God and Jesus in the world. Loving Jesus and keeping his word may be variously defined, but at a fundamental level it must mean being a lived-out word of God’s offer of love, just as Jesus was.

Is it so, he asks?

The tone of the conversation, and the tone of the church, is set by the one who asks the question, so.... which Judas will we be?

Andrew Prior
Direct Biblical quotations in this page are taken from The New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Please note that references to Wikipedia and other websites are intended to provide extra information for folk who don't have easy access to commentaries or a library. Wikipedia is never more than an introductory tool, and certainly not the last word in matters biblical!


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