Is it time to rehabilitate Judas Iscariot, the one about whom Jesus said it would have been better had he never been born? Apparently some high-ranking Catholics think so:
But it appears now that the Catholic Church may be, like Jesus, willing to turn the other cheek on a biblical stinker whose name is synonymous with treachery.
Think of it as a Judas makeover, two millennia after the fact.
The Times of London reported last week on a high-level scheme afoot to rehabilitate Judas, traditionally reviled as the traitor — a mole at the Last Supper — who finked out Jesus, fingering him for Roman soldiers.
One Monsignor Walter Brandmuller, head of the Pontifical Committee for Historical Science, appears to be spearheading the campaign, with the rumoured support of prominent Catholic scholars close to both Pope Benedict XVI and the late John Paul II....
Yet, as Lewis points out, there has always been a thorny problem affixed to this scenario. "How could someone so close to Jesus have done something like that? And how could he not have seen it coming?''
As the Son of God, Jesus would have been able to see everything coming down the pipe. This reinforces the academic argument that Judas's betrayal was preordained; there would have been no crucifixion, thus no resurrection, no dying for everybody's sins, no promise of redemption and life everlasting. And Judas was not even the only Apostle who let down the side — Peter denied Jesus too, when push came to shove, and was forgiven.
"There's a sense that everybody played the role that was intended for them as part of some master plan,'' says Lewis. "Where do you really lay the blame — with Judas, with the Romans, with Jews? Is it even right to speak of blame if it was all a matter of predestination?''
For the record — and after two millennia of Christian-propelled anti-Semitism — the Vatican has declared that Jews were not responsible in the death of Jesus. It hadn't gone without notice that many depictions of Judas — in art and medieval plays — portrayed him with a hooked nose and exaggerated Semitic features.
Reportedly, improving Christian-Jewish relations — which Pope Benedict has made a priority of his pontificate — is also a factor in the proposed rehabilitation of Judas.
Well, of course Judas was fulfilling a necessary role, but that does not absolve him of personal responsibility nor does it mean he was compelled to act against his nature and inclinations. We know also, for example, that Judas was a thief who pilfered the apostles' money bag.
The goal is to come to a three-dimensional understanding of Judas rather than simply considering him as a cartoonish ogre. We must ask ourselves what his actions can teach us, how they can warn us about our own betrayals of the Jesus who died. Rewriting history and denying the ugly choice of sin doesn't help that at all.