Friday, 29 April 2016

Sermon April 24, 2016

When I was on retreat last week I was at a gathering of members of the Apple Farm Community where I was retreating.  One of the people at the gathering was the treasurer who introduced himself in that role.  I responded by saying, “O, you are the Judas of the group.”  Now that could have shut down the conversation right there but he was very engaging and didn’t let my attempt at a joke put him off.  I went on to try and redeem myself and clarified that treasurers play a very important role in any organization.  Certainly our congregations are blessed to have John looking after our finances in such a sound way. 

However, John’s Gospel does not put the treasurer of the disciples’ group in a very good light.  The Gospel writer identifies Judas with the role of the treasurer.  Of course he is connected to the thirty pieces of silver that is reported to have been his price for turning traitor and identifying Jesus to the authorities and betraying him with a kiss—it was literally and figuratively a Judas kiss. 

The betrayal of Judas is recorded in all the Gospels.  John provides a reason for Judas’ act.  The culprit is the old tempter and deceiver Satan.  In the modern take by the comedian Flip Wilson ‘The devil made me do it’. 
The Gospels of Matthew and Mark put it down to pure greed—he did it for the thirty pieces of silver offered by the religious authorities who must have been particularly eager to rid themselves of the potentially dangerous and charismatic messianic figure who had been declared ‘king of the Jews’. 
One theory put forward for Judas’ action is could be called the messianic imperative.  Judas could possibly have wanted to force Jesus’ hand in bringing about the kingdom of God on earth by leading a revolt against the Roman occupiers.  In this scenario Judas would have been seeking power, albeit on behalf of Jesus.  He believed that power should be realized on earth in his time and not in God’s time.  This scenario has Judas being influenced by desire for power and control.  

I believe that this has some validity.  Judas shows remorse when he sees what happens to Jesus after he is arrested.  He gives the thirty pieces of silver back to the high priest.  Judas is so overcome by guilt that he hangs himself.  The Gospel of Matthew reports:
 3When Judas, his betrayer, saw that Jesus was condemned, he repented and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders.   4He said, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.” But they said, “What is that to us? See to it yourself.” 5Throwing down the pieces of silver in the temple, he departed; and he went and hanged himself.
His legacy is that his name has been a symbol of ultimate betrayal ever since.  Dante has a powerful scene in his Divine Comedy which portrays Satan at the centre of hell with three ultimate villains—betrayers—one in each of his three heads in his three mouths being gnawed by formidable fangs; two are the betrayers of Julius Caesar, Cassius and Brutus and the third is Judas.
If we accept the theory of the messianic imperative Judas was a true example of the expression the road to hell is paved with good intentions.  We know from this that we must be very careful when we decide that we know best; we know without a doubt what is right for others as well as ourselves.  When we do this we are placing ourselves ahead of God.  We are in effect playing God.  If we take a few minutes and reflect on our lives can we think of a time when we knew what was best for another person?  Can we think of a time when we did something with the best of intentions that did not turn out for the best? … I imagine it is not hard for any of us to have something some to mind. 

Of course having good intentions should be a good thing.  How else are we to live in a way that is responsible and caring for each other?  I believe that the problem with good intentions as with many other things is when we approach them with certainty that we are doing them out motives that are pure.  We only have the best interests of the other—the other person or group or congregation or country.  When we do not consider what is in it for us; when we are not perhaps even aware that our motives are not pure we run the risk of wanting—of trying to play God.  We are in effect putting ourselves in God’s place.
All this is difficult of course.  Probably no one has pure motives in our actions.  We can do good works for the outer reward of receiving accolades from others or the inner reward of feeling virtuous—perhaps more virtuous that our neighbours.  As Jesus tells us in the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector, “for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.”

This was apparently as much of a problem in Jesus time as it is today.  It seems to be part of the universal human condition.  So how can we try and not fall into the trap of believing we can control others and run the world the way we know it should be run?  We can do our best to put God first.  We can do all we can to try and know God’s will and not our will in all that we do.  We can do all we can to pray the prayer that our Saviour has taught us, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.  Above all pray always and remember to listen for God’s response.  Amen.

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