It is Holy Week and that means a lot of pastors and church leaders are not getting a lot of sleep this week. Holy Week is a busy one for faith leaders and as someone who served in those positions for a number of years my sincere prayers are for them.
Obviously, this week is the one where we remember how Jesus began the week being hailed by the crowds only to have those same crowds call for his death a mere few days later. It is both tragic and inspiring at the same time. It is tragic that people can so quickly move from worship to dehumanizing hatred so quickly. It is inspiring that someone can remain so committed to his calling which is sacrificial love for others even in the face of state-sponsored execution.
I have to admit, each year my thoughts always linger on the tragedy of Judas. There is not much known about the one credited with betraying Jesus, but I always think about the 1977 film, Jesus of Nazareth by Franco Zefferelli. Zefferelli took a common interpretation of who Judas of Iscariot was by portraying him to be in the order of the Sicarii, a sect of Jewish nationalists who believed the greatest impediment to God’s reign on earth was the occupation of Rome. Thus, Judas’ betrayal of Jesus was not about his love of money, but rather, his pursuit of a goal – the protection of Jewish life and culture – that was not shared by Jesus.
Frankly, I always feel bad for Judas. Judas was a revolutionary whose passionate pursuit is one I actually admire. But yet he is forever known as the one who betrays the Son of God. Perhaps his passion got the better of him and blinded him from seeing Jesus’ real purpose on earth, which had nothing to do with nationalism. But hey, how the heck can I blame someone for being too passionate about what they believe in?
While I do think there are many lessons in Judas’ life and tragic death – especially regarding the danger of the idolatry of nationalism, which is not surprisingly making a global comeback in many nations in the world thanks to the past leadership of the United States. But this week at least, I do not spend a lot of time on those dangers. I am more humbled when I think of Judas because I see too much of Judas in me.
How many times have I allowed my passion for justice to blind me or at least impede my love for others? Oh, far, far too many times I am afraid. And I honestly cannot blame myself either! Passion for justice for people who have historically been oppressed and marginalized is a good thing! And yet, I know my passion has run over people before. My passion has unfairly judged and decontextualized people too many times, turning them into one dimensional caricatures without a story, without humanness.
Commitment to justice is a double-edged sword. Prophetic passion can cut through mindless bureaucracy and the lies people tell themselves to maintain their comfort in the midst of suffering all around them. Prophetic passion is a gift of light in the darkness, pointing to authentic individual and collective sanctification that is always characterized by love, empathy, and compassion.
But prophetic passion is also an incredibly heavy burden for how it can also crush people. How easy it is to pronounce judgment on others, that the sins of the wealthy and powerful can be denounced without ever looking inward thereby essentially deciding that one’s righteousness is an easy and even necessary substitute for God’s righteousness since my righteousness is far better than the righteousness of “those people.” Hatred of injustice is often just a few steps away from arrogance and it is the lack of humility that gives way to betrayal of what we are called to.
Holy Week is the time we give thanks for Jesus’ sacrificial love for us. And I do. I truly am amazed sometimes that Jesus loves me more than I could ever hope to earn. Because it is also in this week that I know more than at any other time in the year how easily I succumb to my inner Judas.