Have you ever been asked which Bible character you most identify with? It is a common ‘ice-breaker’ kind of question in Christian gatherings and it often produces interesting answers. The most popular answers are, perhaps unsurprisingly, taken from the disciples, with Peter and Thomas leading the way. Old Testament figures often appear, with David, Daniel and Joshua particular favourites. Then, of course, there are the women: Deborah, Esther, Hannah, Salome and Mary, all being regularly chosen. But no-one ever says Judas. It’s probably not a surprise – after all, who really thinks they are like the one who betrayed a close friend? But, actually, I want to say, we are more like Judas than we’d like to think.
Over the centuries, Christians have characterized Judas in any number of ways from a heartless miser to a power-hungry thief, but the truth is more complicated than this.
In many ways Judas was a true believer, it’s just that Jesus wasn’t the Messiah that he believed in. He was certainly one of the more perceptive of the disciples, as it is clear that he recognised Jesus’ intentions for his Messiahship whilst the rest of the disciples were still largely clueless. Perhaps it would be better to try and see Judas as a man who initially latched onto the magnetic personality of Jesus but eventually became disillusioned as he realised Jesus wasn’t what he wanted him to be.
You see Judas was very definitely a man with a plan, and he was looking for a Messiah who would fulfil his plans. I am not sure we’re that different. When Judas said the Lord’s Prayer, especially the bit, “Your will be done,” I wonder if he said it with the tacit assumption that God’s will agreed with his? But what happens when God’s will differs from my own? What happens when the fulfilment of the prayer, that is, the part when God’s will is accomplished, is the very opposite of what I want? It was at this point that Judas chose to do things his way.
During that last week in Jerusalem, Jesus’ teaching and the purpose of his Messiahship, became much clearer. At the same time, Jesus openly defied—in fact, condemned—the religious establishment to such an extent that he made his death inevitable, and Judas, as astute as he was, knew it. So, Jesus’ plans and Judas’ plans came into conflict, and Judas had a choice to make. I don’t think we will ever truly understand what Judas wanted, or hoped for, in betraying Jesus, but what is clear is that he chose his way, rather than Jesus’.
If Peter embodies the ideal childlike faith that completely trusts Jesus with his future, then Judas trusted in himself and his own plans. In this, we are more like Judas than we’d like to think. You see, I don’t know about you, but I have a hard time just saying, “Wherever I end up is quite alright as long as I’m with Jesus!” That’s the ideal we should be striving for, but how many times do we attach conditions? “I’ll follow you, but…” And then what do we do when Jesus doesn’t meet our conditions, or when his way differs from our own?
We are more like Judas than we’d like to think. Of course, his murderous plot isn’t something we can imagine doing, but I think we can all identify with why he struggled to follow Jesus. And, of course, we face the same choice…will it be your will be done, or my will be done?
So, when someone next asks you, who you identify with as a Christian, do remember Judas. We may want to think of ourselves as having a deep, strong faith, but the reality is far more complicated than we like to admit. Now, don’t get me wrong, Judas isn’t someone we should want to be. He is there as a warning to us not to confuse our plans with God’s plans but we should remember his struggle and his fall, knowing that really, we are more like Judas than we’d like to think.