Issuu on Google+

“This book gives flesh and blood, hands and feet, to the sometimes abstract concept of discipleship. By summarizing what we know about the first disciples, exposing their foibles and allowing us to enter into their struggles, Hulitt Gloer teaches lessons on discipleship in biographical form. For those who are serious about their own discipleship, this book offers enjoyable and profitable reading.”

As You Go . . .

Spiritual Growth

–R. Alan Culpepper Dean of the School of Theology Mercer University

W. Hulitt Gloer is a popular lecturer and teacher living in Kansas City, Missouri. He has been a pastor in Kentucky and Pennsylvania and is the author of numerous books and editor of the book Following Jesus: Sermons on Discipleship also published by Smyth & Helwys.

ISBN 1-57312-007-3

GLOER

Highlighting the more familiar twelve disciples, the apostle Paul, and the women who followed Jesus during his earthly ministry, these reflections on the early traditions of Jesus’ first followers explore the meaning of contemporary discipleship.


Judas Iscariot Biblical Texts Matthew 10:4; 26:14-25; 27:3-10; Mark 3:19; 14:10-11; Luke 6:16; 22:3-6; John 6:66-71; 12:1-8; 13:18-30; Acts 1:16-20

T

hough we learn more from the Gospels about him than we learn about any of the twelve apostles except Peter, Judas Iscariot stands out as the most enigmatic figure in the pages of the New Testament. His name has become synonymous with treachery, deceit, and betrayal. It is used in combination with other words to give the most negative connotations possible. There is the “Judas-kiss,” the kiss of betrayal, and the “Judas-goat,” the one who leads others astray. Parents are wont to name their children after Peter, Andrew, James, or John, but who would think of naming a child Judas? Traitors have, of course, always received a great deal of attention. In Shakespeare’s plays, for example, Shylock is as famous as Portia, Iago as Othello, Brutus as Julius Caesar, Lady MacBeth as Banquo. In our own American history there is Benedict Arnold, whose name has become synonymous with the traitor and whose life has been the subject of countless studies. After all, what makes a traitor? This question intrigues us all. The enigma of Judas Iscariot remains very much a mystery to most of us. How, we ask ourselves, could anyone who had been so close to Jesus possibly have betrayed him? What led Judas to this tragic and fateful end? Just what do we know about him? The name Judas Iscariot appears in all three lists of the Twelve in the synoptic Gospels (Matt 10:4; Mark 3:19; Luke 6:16), and he is mentioned as one of the Twelve in Acts 1:17. In the Synoptics, he makes no appearance until the last days of Jesus’ ministry. In John’s Gospel, however, he makes two earlier appearances that give us more information. According to John 12:6, Judas was the treasurer of the disciple band, an indication that he must have been respected and trusted by the other disciples. The narrative of John 13:21-30 suggests that he was given the place of honor at the Last Supper. All four Gospels recount the story of Judas’ betrayal of Jesus to the Jewish authorities (Matt 26:14-16; Mark 14:10-11; Luke 22:3-6; John 13:1-2; 18:1-2), and his subsequent violent death is narrated by both Matthew (27:3-10) and Luke (Acts 1:16-20).


78

As You Go

The name Judas represents the Greek form of the Hebrew “Judah,” the name of one of Israel’s sons, and a name worn with distinction by many of the heroes of Israel. Much discussion has focused on the meaning of Iscariot. Jerome, translator of the Latin Vulgate, connected Iscariot with the name Issacher, which means “gain” or “reward,” and suggested that it should be understood as a reference to the covetous nature of Judas suggested by John 12:6. Some language experts have associated Iscariot with the Greek word hierochites, meaning an inhabitant of Jericho, thus indicating that Judas was from that city. Syriac versions of the New Testament omit the “I” from Iscariot and read the word scortya, which in Latin describes a leather coat with large pockets for carrying purses and other items. Thus, the name might be suggestive of Judas’ role as “keeper of the purses.” Some academicians have connected Iscariot with the Greek term sikarios, the Greek form of the Latin sicarius (“dagger carrier”), used to describe a group of fanatical Jewish nationalists, thus indicating that Judas was a member of this group. Still others have suggested that Iscariot is derived from the Aramaic word ish, or “man,” and kerioth, the name of a village in Judea. It would mean something like “man of Kerioth,” indicating that Judas was from that village. As far as we know, this would make Judas the only Judean among the Twelve. While none of these suggestions can be ruled out entirely, most New Testament scholars favor one of the last two interpretations. As we have noted, Matthew, Mark, and Luke provide little information about Judas until the final fateful week of Jesus’ life. In John’s Gospel, however, we discover two incidents that occurred earlier in Jesus’ ministry that may help us to understand Judas’ actions.

The Things of God or of Humankind? Reflection Text John 6:66-71 John 6 begins with the story of the feeding of the 5,000 (vv. 1-13). Following the feeding, the people were coming to Jesus to “take him by force to make him king” (v. 15). No doubt many of those present perceived this miracle as a messianic sign, since according to popular tradition in the messianic age, God would once again provide manna for the people even as God had done for the people of Israel in the wilderness of Sinai. Verses 30-31 seem to confirm that this was indeed the case. Most of the crowd probably also shared the widely held view


Judas Iscariot

79

that the coming Messiah would be a Davidic king who would set up his throne in Jerusalem and drive the Roman oppressors into the sea. Thus, they were ready to take Jesus and make him king. In response, Jesus took leave of the crowd and, after crossing the sea to Capernaum, delivered a long discourse. As he described his purpose and mission in this discourse, many of those listening began to murmur (vv. 40, 60-61). In fact, John ends this account by focusing the attention of his readers on the fact that some hearers did not believe Jesus’ words: “Many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him” (v. 66). Jesus asked the Twelve if they were also going away. Peter responded with the confession that the disciples believed that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the living God. To whom else, then, could they go? (vv. 68-69). Jesus responded with an interesting question: “Did I not choose you, the twelve? Yet one of you is a devil” (v. 70). John then interpreted Jesus’ question by indicating that “he was speaking of Judas son of Simon Iscariot, for he, though one of the Twelve, was going to betray him” (v. 71). Was John suggesting to us that Judas’ betrayal of Jesus was somehow related to the kind of disillusionment with Jesus that caused many of his disciples to turn away from Jesus and no longer go about with him (v. 66)? These left Jesus because they were not satisfied with what Jesus had said about himself and the nature of his ministry. Was Judas’ betrayal similarly a result of his unwillingness to accept the way that Jesus had chosen to accomplish that which God had sent him to do? Another event in the Gospels has some striking parallels to the incident just described: the confrontation between Jesus and Peter at Caesarea Philippi (Matt 16:13-28). Read the story for yourself, and note any similarities that seem to appear. In the Matthean narrative Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” (v. 13). After they had shared several popular perceptions, Peter responded with the same confession found in John 6:69: “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God” (Matt 16:16). Immediately Jesus began to teach “his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised” (v. 21). Unwilling to accept the possibility of such a scenario, Peter took Jesus aside and “began to rebuke him, saying, ‘God forbid, Lord! This must never happen to you’ ” (v. 22). Do you remember Jesus’ response to Peter? “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block


80

As You Go

to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things” (v. 23). Note that in Matthew Jesus referred to Peter as Satan, and in John 6:70 Judas is referred to as a devil. Was Judas’ problem the same problem as that reflected in Peter’s response to Jesus in Matthew? Was Judas unwilling to accept the way Jesus has chosen? Was he enamored with the things of humankind rather than the things of God? Is this what Jesus saw in Judas at the feeding of the 5,000? Would this lead to his destruction and death?

The Poor or the Purse? Reflection Text John 12:1-8 John 12:1-8 tells the story of the anointing of Jesus by Mary at the home of Lazarus, Mary, and Martha in Bethany. From this story we learn several interesting things. First, Judas must have been highly respected and trusted by his fellow disciples because he was entrusted with the role of keeping “the common purse” (6:6). At the same time, however, this verse suggests that things may not always be what they seem on the surface. In fact, John suggests that the trust the disciples demonstrated was a misplaced trust since Judas was pilfering the purse. Appearances can be deceiving! How much of our Christian commitment is merely appearance? How much is merely cosmetic? How deep does our commitment really run? Second, we see Judas’ extremely negative reaction to the anointing in verses 6 and 7. The oil used for the anointing was very expensive oil worth 300 denarii (a denarius was a day’s wage for a common laborer). Why not sell the oil, Judas argued, and give the proceeds to the poor? Certainly this would seem to be a worthy suggestion, but John indicates that Judas’ motives were not as pure as they might appear (once again, appearances can be deceiving). In fact, John suggests that Judas’ concern was not so much for the poor as for the purse! The story is seen by John as another indication of the tragic tendency in Judas to focus his attention on the things of humankind rather than on the things of God!

The Fateful Choice Reflection Texts Matthew 26:14-16; 27:17-25; John 13:21-30 Finally, we turn to the tragic events of the last week of Judas’ life. He made an agreement with the Jewish authorities to hand Jesus over to


Judas Iscariot

81

their custody (Matt 26:14-16). His reasons are impossible for us to fathom with any certainty. Through the years, many suggestions have been offered. Some persons have suggested that because he may have been the only Judean among the Twelve he had come to see himself as an outsider or outcast from the group, and, therefore, he acted in spite. Based on John 12:6, others have suggested that Judas acted mainly for the money, motivated by simple greed. If this is the case, however, it is strange that he would not have sought a greater sum of money. The amount he received was really rather small. Some scholars have suggested that Judas was a member of the sicarii, that group of radical Jewish nationalists bent on the overthrow of the Romans and the establishing of an independent Jewish state. According to this scenario, Judas believed that Jesus was the Messiah who had come to usher in the Kingdom, but he was impatient with the speed with which Jesus was moving and felt that he could prompt Jesus to act by bringing the authorities against him. Others have suggested that Judas had gradually (perhaps beginning as early as the feeding of the 5,000) come to realize that Jesus’ purposes were not the same as his, and his growing disillusionment with Jesus led finally to the betrayal. In the final analysis, of course, we cannot know what Judas may have been thinking. Clearly, however, he had determined to hand Jesus over to the authorities as they were making their way to Jerusalem. By the time they gathered for the last supper, he had already struck his deal with the authorities. In the upper room, however, we find a most incredible thing occurring. As we have seen, according to John’s Gospel, Jesus already knew that Judas would betray him. Still it appears that at the Last Supper, Jesus, serving as the host for the supper, invited Judas to sit in the seat of honor! Let me explain what I mean. First, read the story in Matthew 26:17-25 and John 13:21-30. At the time of Jesus, the guests at such a dinner would recline on low couches, resting on their left elbow so as to leave the right arm free for eating. John 13:23 suggests that John was at Jesus’ right, reclining on his breast. The position to the left of the host was left for the honored guest, for the host would then recline with his head resting on the breasts of the honored guest. Three foods would be found on the Passover table: (1) a paste (made of apples, dates, pomegranates, and nuts) known as charosheth, which symbolized the clay from which the Israelites made bricks while they were slaves in Egypt; (2) bitter herbs (endive, horseradish,


82

As You Go

chicory, horehound, and others), which symbolized the bitterness of their slavery in Egypt; and (3) unleavened bread. At one point in the meal some of the bitter herbs were placed between two pieces of unleavened bread, dipped in the charosheth, and eaten. This was called the sop, and for the host to make up the sop and hand it to a guest was a signal of honor. According to John 13:26, Jesus handed the sop to Judas! Furthermore, the verbal interchange between Jesus and Judas in verse 23 was apparently a private one. Surely, if the others had heard it, they would have attempted to stop Judas rather than assuming that he was merely going to buy provisions for the feast (v. 29). Now what is the point in all of this? Even on the night of his betrayal, Jesus reached out in love to Judas and offered him the opportunity to respond to his love and purposes. Still, Judas was more concerned with the things of humankind than with the things of God. In short, when it came down to a choice between Jesus and Judas, Judas chose Judas! He had the same opportunities, the same personal exposure to Jesus that the other eleven had, but he chose Judas. He had, at least for a time, the respect of the others; and all the while, he had the love of Jesus, even to the last. Still he chose Judas, and we wonder how he could do it. How could he choose the things of humankind rather than the things of God? In a sense, Judas’ life represents the struggle of every disciple— the struggle between commitment to the things of humankind and the things of God, and we must be careful to examine our lives at this point. Perhaps as Carlyle Marney once suggested, we have tended to make Judas a scapegoat and forgotten that it was not Judas alone who sent Jesus to Calvary.1 Of course, the choice between the ways of humankind and the ways of God is as old as the Garden of Eden and as contemporary as today. The temptation to which Judas succumbed confronts every disciple over and over again. It is the temptation to put self first when Jesus has called us to put the Kingdom first. Judas presents to us the clearest picture of the inevitable result of putting the things of humankind before the things of God. The temptation to which he succumbed is ever there for those who would be disciples of Jesus. May God grant that we may not be guilty of walking in his steps! Note 1See

“Company of Betrayers” in The Crucible of Redemption (Wake Forest NC: Chanticleer, 1968) 13-21.


“This book gives flesh and blood, hands and feet, to the sometimes abstract concept of discipleship. By summarizing what we know about the first disciples, exposing their foibles and allowing us to enter into their struggles, Hulitt Gloer teaches lessons on discipleship in biographical form. For those who are serious about their own discipleship, this book offers enjoyable and profitable reading.”

As You Go . . .

Spiritual Growth

–R. Alan Culpepper Dean of the School of Theology Mercer University

W. Hulitt Gloer is a popular lecturer and teacher living in Kansas City, Missouri. He has been a pastor in Kentucky and Pennsylvania and is the author of numerous books and editor of the book Following Jesus: Sermons on Discipleship also published by Smyth & Helwys.

ISBN 1-57312-007-3

GLOER

Highlighting the more familiar twelve disciples, the apostle Paul, and the women who followed Jesus during his earthly ministry, these reflections on the early traditions of Jesus’ first followers explore the meaning of contemporary discipleship.


As You Go