Today on the Orthodox Church calendar is Good Friday. Regular Blair readers know that I am an Orthodox Christian. Judas has been on my mind the last few days.
The standard explanation for Judas Iscariot going bad is that he expected Jesus to be a political leader and was disappointed. This is all plausible, and while we do not know the meaning of the name “Iscariot”, there is a linguistic theory that he was from a band of political rebels. However, most of Jesus’s followers thought He would be a political leader and did not betray Him. This standard explanation probably is not false, but I think it is incomplete and misses the point.
Judas betrayed Jesus because he was embarrassed of Him.
Jesus had a successful ministry going. Thousands were flocking to Him. Not only were various miracles happening, but Jesus taught about kindness and patience. People were becoming better humans. Jesus was creating a kinder and gentler world.
And Judas probably thought well of himself. Here he is as a close confidant of the leader of this social revolution. He may have been skimming some off the top of the charity fund, but surely, he thought, that Jesus knew that. And anyway it is what he, Judas, deserved for all the good he was doing. Judas saw himself as a good person who was helping make a positive change in the world. Even the gentiles were better off. It was a world revolution. Judas was a Mother Theresa, hugging the untouchables and feeding the poor.
And then Jesus had to start talking about eating His body and drinking His blood. Many of His followers were confused and asked for clarification, waiting for Him to explain that it was all a metaphor. Jesus refused. They started to turn away. Jesus did not ask them to return. He let masses walk away from His message of peace and love just so that He could talk about cannibalism.
Of course Judas was angry. Jesus was ruining everything. Perhaps it only after this that Judas started stealing from the charity fund. After all, if Jesus did not care about His own ministry, why should he?
Jesus’s disciples seemed to agree. No one suspected Judas was a traitor. When Jesus announced one of them would betray Him, they all asked who it was. Even when Jesus pointed him out at the last supper, the other disciples still did not realize that Judas was the betrayer.
Judas was your stereotypical self-righteous Christian who thinks he is Jesus’s best friend and convinces everyone else of it. He is the deacon in the Baptist church that everyone thinks is a “servant-leader”. He owns the restaurant that closes on Sundays and gives away free food (even though he manipulates his employees). He substitute preaches when the pastor is on vacation. People say he speaks from the heart. They crave to be in his Sunday School class. He stands up during church council meetings and denounces those who cling to the old ways, those who say “no” to every proposal. He wants to leave the world a better place when he is gone. He wants to be an agent for change.
Or he is the Orthodox priest with a blog and an internet radio show with all kinds of clever insights and semi-poetic prose. He is a deep thinker. He always has something new and interesting to say. The way he runs his parish is irrelevant — you can hear what a godly man he is just by listening to his voice. He has thousands of Facebook friends. He is a priest of the Most High God, entrusted with the care of souls and given authority to teach by the bishop. What’s not to trust?
And this is most of Christianity today. And really, for the past century. Churches see themselves as agents of God to make the world a better place. They want to help as many people as possible. If you start talking about traditional sex roles or the danger in popular music, then people will be turned off and leave. And then you lose the opportunity to help them. Oh no!
Obviously I am empathizing a bit with people I disagree with and, frankly, despise. Churches should stick their flag in the ground, declare their war against the world, and let the masses walk away. Jesus said that narrow is the way. If your church is huge, you are probably doing something wrong.
Judas was not anything unusual. Most churches have the psychology of Judas. Most Christians have the psychology of Judas. They do not actually believe in their beliefs. Or if they do, they make a point to minimize them. And they certainly never kick people out of the church for major sins like divorce.
It seems mainline protestants have the most embarrassment. Most mainline groups (Presbyterians, Lutherans, Methodists, and Anglicans) make a point to agree with the secular left as much as possible. Genesis did not really happen, abortion is a woman’s choice, racism is the worst evil ever, etc. They are deeply embarrassed of and hate anyone who insists the Bible should be taken at face value. The worst heresy for them is to say that Jesus was not all about peace and love.
Evangelicals are better but not by much. They hold to Biblical inerrancy and insist that homosexuality destroys the American family, but then they are totally silent about divorce and remarriage. They praise single mothers and castrate young men.
Modern Catholicism is an abomination, but I think the traditionalists on the internet have that commentary covered far better than I could ever do (or care).
Orthodox Christianity is generally resistant to progressivism, but we are by no means immune.
All forms of Christianity to some extent or another have traded teaching doctrine for teaching doubt. Some veins are more resistant, but none have their hands clean. All of us have been a Judas. We have sold out Jesus for some notion of a greater good. It is a good thing to open a soup kitchen, but doing so is worthless if you lose your own soul.