Rev. Joseph Hughes
Editor’s Note: The following sermon was preached at Peace Lutheran Church, West Salem, Oregon, on Maundy Thursday, April 1, 2021. In addition to serving as the pastor of Peace, Rev. Hughes is the chaplain for the Fire District of Silverton, Oregon.
When I read the Maundy Thursday Gospel my heart goes out to Judas. He is an exemplar of what one scholar calls the mystery of evil, or in Latin, the mysterium iniquitas. And the reason my heart goes out to him is because I identify with him. I see much of myself in him. I don’t understand what made him decide it would be a good idea to betray Jesus. I don’t understand how Jesus would call him to be one of the twelve disciples, the men closest to Jesus, the men who knew him best, knowing his discipleship would end in such a terrible way. Why did Judas do what he did?
I suppose it could be that Judas was just plain evil. I suppose it could be that he was just “faking” it as a disciple. I supposed it could be that he was wronged or humiliated before the others in some way, and that made him angry enough to try to destroy the whole Jesus enterprise. I suppose it could be that Judas was in league with the devil all along.
But there is no evidence for that. The Gospel for today says that the devil had put the betrayal of Jesus into the heart of Judas. Yet even when Jesus knows that Judas will betray him, Jesus still washes his feet along with the feet of the others. I think that’s important. It shows Jesus as we know him, one who is able to love even the unlovable.
When I think about Judas, I feel that he has been duped. Misled. Deceived. That makes sense. It is the way of the evil one with human beings, even from the beginning when Satan deceived Adam and Eve, and they fell into sin, rebelling against God’s explicit instruction not to eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of Good and Evil.
In the story they are deceived into thinking that God just didn’t want them to be like himself. But God’s instructions were for their own good. The human beings were not able to know the good from the evil in their choices.
That’s like me. Maybe like you. The mystery of evil is such that it sucks us into thinking that we know, when we don’t. Sometimes it rears its ugly head when we act in thoughtlessness or ignorance, when we sin by omission as well as commission, failing by not only doing what we ought not to do, but also by not doing what we ought to have done.
As hard as it is, I think it would be a good thing for us to realize that we are not so different from Judas. Indeed, Judas is our brother. Judas has spent years of spiritual intimacy with Jesus. How could he have betrayed him? But he did.
God has been in communion with us too. We have known Jesus well, many of us. We believe in him. But sometimes we forget how sinful we are. How easily we can be deceived. We need desperately to be washed clean every day of our lives. We need the Jesus of Maundy Thursday. The Jesus who washes the feet of his betrayer. In a mystery far greater than the mystery of evil, Jesus gives himself to his beloved in the bread and the wine, the very body broken on the cross, the very blood that poured from his wounds.
No. I am not so different from Judas. It is far too easy to see how I could be so terribly deceived as to bring harm to my dearest friend. Which is precisely why we need this Jesus at table with braggards like Peter, and betrayers like Judas, and all the others. It’s been said every saint has a past. I suspect that to be true of the twelve, and of us.
But by God’s mercy in the love of Jesus, every sinner has a future. That is why on this night especially we share the Lord’s Supper, the supper that offers forgiveness life and salvation to all who believe.
I know that the scripture says that Judas took his own life. Some people say that means he was condemned to hell. But we don’t know that. Besides, I don’t think that way about Judas.
I think it was the hell he was already living when he realized what he had done that drove him to take his own life. But God’s mercy is greater. His mercy endures forever. And while we do not know, it is not impossible to think that there is a place even for Judas in the abiding place of our Father. In my Father’s house, Jesus said, there are many rooms.
Thanks be to God – for his mercy endures forever. Amen.