12 December 2019
How do people move on? How does a group which has been ripped apart by the betrayal of one of their own move on?
The group of disciples came to earth with a thud. They stopped looking up and moved back to Jerusalem.Time with their risen Lord certainly helped, but now he has gone and asks them to wait. Now they face Monday moming and its still there. The dull thud of the hurt and rage of knowing that one of them had betrayed them and betrayed Jesus They spent time praying but it was still there, hovering around them, with them – what to do about Judas?
And Luke shows us. Judas has eliminated himself but that doesn’t finish it. Suicide never finishes things. Peter grasping the nettle and suggests a way forward. He names the crime and the criminal. “Judas who became a guide for those who arrested Jesus” Its all there. The book of Acts is laced with the Psalms and we find at the beginning of the church there is anger. Deep anger, they turn to the psalms of vengence, the curses of David for his betrayal. Ps 109.8 “May his days be few may another seize his position,” do you want to know what the rest of this says? “May his children be orphans and his wife a widow. May his children wander and beg: may they be driven out of the ruins they inhabit…..”the curses of the OT give them their way forward.
They drew lots to replace the one who had gone. Matthias was the choice. Poor Matthias what pressure would have been on him as he followed in the wake of Judas?. How could they trust each other ever again?
For although they tried to draw the line between Judas and them Judas was one of them . “ He was numbered among us” said Peter “and allotted his share in this ministry.”
Judas is part of their history. He was one of Jesus’ close friends. He would have been provided for from of the common kitty. He was trusted to look after the money. The name of Judas was associated with that of Christ. To other people when they looked at Judas the saw someone who was with Jesus.
Judas was not simply part of the seventy, he was chosen as one of the close disciples. Along with the others he would have healed and given the good news of the kingdom of God. Along with the others he saw the lame dance and the deaf hearing and sight given to the blind. He was one of them. And that is the difficulty they struggled with.
At the last supper the disciples said is it I? When Jesus said that one of them would betray him. They never said “Lord is it Judas?”
Jesus had reached out to him – the night before he betrayed his leader Jesus had washed Judas feet. Now you are clean but not all said Jesus to Judas. But Judas didn’t hear.
At the supper Jesus offered him the portion for the favoured one and Judas shared the dish. This is a personal relationship. But Judas went and sought out those who were plooting to kill Jesus and offered to lead them to him.
He betrayed his Master with a Kiss. And we are told when he saw the consequences of his actions his was filled with remorse and killed himself.
Judas was their friend, he had committed suicide, and he had betrayed all of them. He had betrayed, in the eyes of Luke by the time Acts was written, God’s own son.
And they’d never guessed. O yes in retrospect they could see that maybe the signs were there. The little piece in John’s gospel about Judas being a thief , that was hindsight, and so were the other inserts. They treid to distance themselves from him. Later paintings depict Judas as different, with Red Hair, without a beard among bearded disciples. Mean and shifty looking. But he wasn’t he was one of them, a trusted friend a follower of Jesus.
Today we would have victim support and every grief counsellor in the place around them. But do you know what, in this sharp little story at the beginning of Acts where Luke is at pains to tell us it wasn’t easy, none of those would have touched the depth of pain in that group. The joy of seeing Jesus was real, but many have wondered why they didn’t just go and tell the good news. You can't when you’re dealing with mistrust, with real loss, with disgust and pain and anger. When you realise that Judas can’t just be eliminated from the scene because he’s left you incomplete. The twelve needed to make a meeting, the twelve needed to be the symbolic number of tribes of Israel has one missing.. So you look for guidance in those psalms which talk about betrayal and you try to fill the space. And you have to wait for something which will help you move on.
It’s a long time since I’ve used coal for a fire. The wood burning ones are pretty good these days. But coal in particular, once you’ve got it going can be banked up overnight and the fire looks dead on the outside. But in the morning you stir it slightly , just give it a little bit of air and the coals redden and they bust into flame.
How do we move on from betrayal? Only people we trust have the ability to betray us. someone deeply wrongs or betrays us , and its like the intense heat of coals burning inside with pain or anger . sometimes even with the desire to get revenge, to hurt the one who has hurt us – or our loved ones. Forgive now, says the pressure around us if we are Christian, but we can’t always do so straight away.
For like fiery red coals, our deeply negative feelings rarely go out in an instant--just because we want them to. Usually, it takes time. In fact, it takes a process of inner healing--.
There are situations when people have been able to heal quickly and forgive quickly from their hearts. But, in my experience, such situations are rare. It seems that most often we need time--perhaps even years--for true inner healing and true forgiving which comes from the heart. to take place.
Out of a sense of Christian duty to forgive quickly, many modern Christians will say that they have forgiven another--when, in fact, those coals are still burning within them. This duty-based forgiving is incomplete. IT is at risk of being superficial kind of forgiving, which comes through gritted teeth.
We bank up the burning coals within us. We put them aside. We fool ourselves into believing those coals are dead. But the truth is, those coals still burn within us. And some day, under the wrong set of circumstances--such as seeing again the person who hurt us--those banked coals suddenly flare-up into an intense fire.
I believe that true forgiveness involves the resolution and healing of our pain, anger, and ill will. It's not just a temporary putting aside or letting go of our negative feelings. The kind of forgiveness Jesus talked about-- requires a journey of the heart. It's a journey of decision, faith, and healing. It's a journey we prayerfully walk with God, until the peace of Christ rules in our hearts. It's a journey we cannot do quickly.
That Group of disciples hadn’t yet found that instant forgiveness and how to really do it at that point. They are caught in the waiting time, on the edge of something new. They are about to be encountered by Love. but they aren’t there yet. And Luke makes sure that we don’t forget that Judas was one of them, one of us.
So what changed? How did they move on? Flames like fire and rushing wind as the Spirit of God opened their minds to what Following Jesus meant.
And we know something changed. Be cause later, a Man named Saul had a vision. He had hunted killed and persecuted Christians and now he wanted to be one of them. Could they trust, could they believe this wasn’t just another trick and a man called barnabas took him and persuaded the community to accept their tormentor as one of them. They did so reluctantly at first - but they did. Paul who was Saul became one of them.
Somewhere in this story we realise that God can enter our stories, our hurts dna fear and smouldering resentments. God will do what is almost impossible for humans God can enable us to forgive, to let go because God forgives us, accepts each one of us..
Then we realise that we can move on because if God can accept us then we can accept that Judas is one of us, we can recognise the Judas within us. And we can grieve for him.
Jesus, betrayed by his friend, deserted by the others, killed for doing good said “ Father forgive them for they do not know” And he asks us to follow him – on that path of forgiveness- for that is when we move into new life.
Rev. Margaret Anne Low
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