I'm grateful to Seth Olson for his sermon this morning, which gave me some clearer focus on today's gospel and which should soon be available here.
I preached a sermon on Judas when I was at VTS. I remember that it didn’t go very well. Partly, of course, that’s because of the preacher. But part of it had to do with Judas. Preachers love talking about Judas because we don’t really understand him, but the fact that we don’t really understand him makes him a difficult subject for a sermon. It’s hard to preach on something that neither the preacher nor the congregation understand.
The gospel accounts work hard to portray Judas as a terrible scoundrel. Given the apologetic nature of their writings, that makes sense. They needed to let everyone know that Judas was bad—as John puts it that “Satan entered into him”—so that Jesus’ triumph over evil would outshine the fact that the Christ had chosen a traitor to follow him. Still, though, questions remain unanswered.
Today’s gospel brings us face to face with Judas’ treachery in heightened, good-and-evil terms. Jesus predicts his betrayal. All of the disciples gasp in horror. Peter asks the beloved disciple to ask Jesus who it was. Jesus says that it’s the one he gives the bread to. Then, he gives it to Judas, and, “after he received the piece of bread, Satan entered into him.” Jesus tells him to do what he is going to do quickly, and he runs out to the confusion of the other disciples.
Jesus gives Judas the bread. Satan enters into him. Jesus tells him to hurry up and do his deed. How are we supposed to make sense of that?
Jesus is in charge. Even when he is subjected to the authorities who interrogate, torture, and kill him, Jesus is still shown to be in control. Does that mean he caused Judas to do this? Does it mean he wanted him to? Does it merely imply foreknowledge? How does it work? How can it be that Jesus kept his betrayer that close—even urging him to carry out his betrayal?
We don’t know. We are as confused as the disciples. We are dealing with forces bigger than ourselves. All we know is that Judas betrayed Jesus, yet Jesus accepted what came to him as part of God’s will. We cannot make sense of that, but we are intrigued by it. Why? Because it is our story, too. Why do we betray our Lord? Why do we turn our backs on God? Likely never in as dramatic terms as Judas’ arch-betrayal, we are still guilty of the same. How do we make sense of it? We can’t. But we cling to the fact that despite our treachery God is still in control.