On the weekdays of Holy Week we are having a sermon at Mass reflecting on
characters from the gospel accounts of Jesus' Passion.
Today we focused on Judas Iscariot.
I always felt a bit sorry for Judas. When I was a child, my parents explained to me that Simnel Cakes traditionally had eleven eggs on top because these symbolised the Apostles, leaving out Judas. At the time I remember feeling that leaving someone out was a bit mean, no matter what they had done.
But, of course, the maligning of Judas goes far beyond Easter customs. His name has become a by-word for betrayal. "Judas", someone famously shouted at Bob Dylan when he produced an electric guitar on stage. Judas' name has been used in anger in relationships scarred by betrayal, in communities during strikes, in nations torn apart by war, the list goes on. And whenever Judas' name is used it carries a power, a sense of accusation.
And not without good reason. Betrayal cuts at the heart of what it is to be human. We are, by our nature, social creatures. The biblical account which has God saying that it is not good for Adam, the symbolic human being, to be alone confirms what ordinary life teaches us. We thrive in community. We depend on others for our food, our security, and for fellowship. There is something fundamentally lacking in a human life which does not involve mature and open relationships to others. It is no surprise then that the Christian account of salvation is a social one: the reality the Bible calls the 'Kingdom of God' is, by its very nature, collective. It is not about me being saved through my personal relationship with God. It is about us, a people, being saved together. The Church, anticipating the Kingdom, is a reminder of the communal nature of our human destiny.
Betrayal attacks all of this. Through undermining the trust which is essential to significant social bonds, it attacks those bonds themselves. It is for this reason that Dante thought betrayal the worst of all sins, and placed traitors - notable amongst them Judas - in the lowest pit of Hell in his Divine Comedy.
Yet we are all traitors. All of us turn away from Christ and from others to a greater or lesser extent. All of us deny him when it suits us. All of us reject what we know to be the things that loyalty to Christ and to humanity demands. We are all traitors.
The gospel reading for today's Mass describes two traitors. Not only Judas, but also Peter, will betray Christ. There is one difference. Peter, after Jesus' Resurrection, is reconciled with Jesus, professing love three times and so 'undoing' the three times he denied Jesus. Peter is forgiven, and sent out to 'feed my sheep'. Judas does not seek reconciliation - in other accounts he is described as hanging himself. We are all traitors - nevertheless the Christ who is the ultimate object of all our betrayals, big and small, welcomes us back and promises to restore us to flourishing relationships with himself and with others. He invites us, we need to accept that invitation.