Jesus and our “Judas-Junk”

Judas’s weakness seems to stream from his penchant for control; but Jesus will not be controlled!

News November 3, 2022

3 November 2022 | Watford, England [Dr Wayne Erasmus]

But one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, who was later to betray him, objected, “Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages. He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it (John 12:4-6 NIV).

Having the trust of his peers, at least for most of their shared lived experience, he served as their treasurer.

Judas. The one disciple we don’t want to be like. The one whose name is a by-word, slang for a turncoat, synonymous with self-interest, and equivalent with dishonour. To describe the man, we use words like “choice”—other traditions would use “predestined”—and phrases like, “he allowed Satan into his heart”. Who was this man that is vilified and painted as among the most vile and reprehensible to ever breathe our air and walk our paths?

What is it about Judas that we find incomprehensible? Was he so different to his colleagues and to ourselves that he is a puzzle? Is he a conundrum so intractable and complex that it renders him an enigma?

Like the others

Let’s suppose for a moment that Judas was much like the others. Like them, he was looking for the Messiah. Like them, he thought that Jesus of Nazareth might be “the One”.

Like the others, Judas was willing to follow despite the hardships and difficulties faced. He slept rough like all the others, nibbled wheat grains on a Sabbath afternoon, and found himself obliged, perhaps, to eat Samaritan bread on occasion. Like the others, his life flashed before his eyes as they battled the Galilean storm while Jesus slept. And like them, he was astounded “that even the winds and waves obey his voice” (Matthew 8:27; Mark 4:41). He was among the twelve, sent out and given power and authority to drive out demons and cure diseases (Luke 9). And like the others, he assumed that Jesus would launch a kingdom to overthrow and replace the Roman occupation and the corrupt Herodian Regime.

Having the trust of his peers, at least for most of their shared lived experience, he served as their treasurer. What made him more trustworthy in this regard than say, Matthew who had worked with money at government levels? OK! Perhaps that was the reason…

It is also probable that Judas began from a place of weakness – in the same way each of the apostles came with feet of clay, unrealistic expectations of themselves, misconceptions of Jesus, and a sense of ‘being in the know’ when it came to the things of God. The idea that they had an ‘inside track’ often led them to misstep and misapprehend.

This place of weakness for Judas seems to relate to his ability to control. In our scripture passage, he is objecting to the actions—and lavish gift—made by Mary. He speaks of it as wasteful, charging that the resources could be better utilised and channelled if managed centrally. And of course, there is a great deal of merit in that perspective!

But Jesus is not easily managed or controlled.

The plan to which Jesus appears to be working is not efficient. It is not predictable, and there are no guaranteed outcomes Judas can perceive. At least, no outcomes that appear to be advantageous for the group and their messianic expectations. Jesus talks about death (which would be tantamount to failure) when they would rather hear about rebellion and decisive action! In Matthew’s Gospel, James and John are concurrently making their plans for positions in Jesus’ Kingdom – brokered no less by their mother.

Judas is becoming anxious. Not just about any potential position of influence in this coming kingdom of Jesus, but about the possibility that the kingdom might be too far in the future, or worse still, put at risk by a leader who does not seem to care deeply enough about the thing on which everything could rise and fall.

Impact!

“Judas wanted the impact of the Kingdom now.”[i] Now is the time! Passover is the Kairos moment!  The people can be swayed. A few good public moments at a time of heightened national awareness and festive gathering could give Jesus just the kind of exposure that would usually take months to generate by walking the length and breadth of Palestine. Already there had been a very warm reception as Jesus, seated on a donkey had entered Jerusalem to cries of “Hosannah to the Son of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven!” (Matthew 21:9). This was not a time for morose musings. It was time for action! Time to set Israel free from the yoke of Rome! Time for prestige, power, and positional influence to be conferred!

The problem with Jesus

Jesus was getting off-track, and the desired momentum was slowing down. Judas could feel it all slipping away as Jesus did more to divide opinion, offend religious leaders, affirm the right of Rome to impose taxes, while his regular reference to his death did little to raise the level of morale. The anointing at Bethany seemed to settle the next step in his mind. In Matthew’s Gospel his decision to negotiate with the chief priests immediately follows the events in Bethany (Matt 26:6-16).

“Judas has disdain for the snail’s pace at which the Messiah stirred up change against the oppressive empire”[ii] and he decides to catalyse what Jesus will not. His actions may be seen as a last, desperate move to speed things up and force a more favourable outcome. He is taking control. Managing threats. Guaranteeing an outcome. The go-getter, pragmatist sought a radical return on their investment.

“Judas has disdain for the snail’s pace at which the Messiah stirred up change against the oppressive empire”.

Don’t we all…

Perhaps there is more “Judas-junk” within us all than we are prepared or able to admit. “It is easy to scapegoat Judas for his actions of betrayal, but the path that led him there was paved by unchecked, unexposed, unrestrained ambition.”[iii]

Recently I co-led a weekend retreat entitled, “Small Church, BIG Impact” – an attempt at a clever title designed to speak about contrasts, discuss potential, and encourage leaders of our numerous small congregations to know that small is not the measure of the Kingdom. And I stand by that.  I just wish I hadn’t used the word “impact”.

“Impact” carries a plethora of images and meanings, connoting a meteor slamming into a place. It shows up and there is no mistaking it arrived. Nothing is quite the same again. Dan White suggests that “our powerful portraits of making an impact have done just that – left us with gaping holes, craters in the formation of community and in our presence in places.”[iv]

Judas wanted something big for the kingdom. He wanted it to make a splash. More than that, its impact needed to displace and dismantle the Roman Empire and its presence in Palestine and its hold on Judas and his people. But Judas also wanted what the Empire could engineer: an ability to control, to manage threats, and guarantee outcomes. “How quickly our good intentions, our desires for kingdom impact easily get mixed in with our personal and church ambitions”[v], with our measures of success, our need to prove our worth, to report on impact. “Attaching Jesus’s name to these desires doesn’t change the fact that they look just like the craving of the world.”[vi] White continues, “A church with the faithful qualities of the fruits of the Spirit simply does not go viral, and I’m not sure these virtues lead to rapid expansion.”[vii]

Some years back I purchased a book on the recommendation of a good friend. “The Imperfect Pastor” by Zack Eswine contains these lines that I share with you.

“As you enter ministry, you will be tempted to orient your desires toward doing large things in famous ways as fast and as efficiently as you can. But take note.  A crossroads waits for you. Jesus is that crossroads. Because anything in life that truly matters will require you to do small, mostly overlooked things, over a long period of time with him.  The pastoral vocation, because it focuses on helping people cultivate what truly matters, is therefore no exception.”[viii]

“How quickly our good intentions, our desires for kingdom impact easily get mixed in with our personal and church ambitions”

Jesus and our “Judas-Junk”?

Desire for the Kingdom burns within us. We’ve been trained to dream of doing large things in famous ways as fast we can for God’s glory – selected, elected, and charged to make an impact in the name of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. And at some point, a committee somewhere will measure us all.

But before we were administrators, directors, overseers, and staff, we were ‘called’. We were called to the kind of spiritual leadership that keeps requiring we surrender to the small, mostly overlooked things of the Kingdom, over long periods of time.

Friends, as you begin this day, Jesus stands with you. You were never meant to know everything, fix everything, and be everywhere at once. That’s His job, not yours. Impact is his sphere. Not mine.


[i] White Jr, Dan.  2015.  Subterranean: Why the Future of the Church is Rootedness.  Cascade: Eugene, Oregon.
[ii] Ibid
[iii] Ibid
[iv] Ibid
[v] Ibid
[vi] Eswine, Zackary W. 2015.  The Imperfect Pastor:  Discovering Joy in our Limitations Through a Daily Apprenticeship with Jesus.  Crossway: Ill.  Kindle, Location 323
[vii] White, Dan p. 50
[viii] Eswine, Zackary W, Location 283

 Dr Wayne Erasmus serves as the Church Growth & Advent Mission director for the South England Conference. The message of this article was first shared as a devotional to Trans-European Division staff at their morning worship.

[Photos: Shutterstock and Pexels / CC BY 4.0]

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