Jesus or Judas?

Christ the King, C-22

Immanuel Lutheran, Chicago

Today’s gospel offers us a choice. Shall we follow Jesus or Judas? It may sound like a rhetorical question.  After all, as every kid in Sunday school knows, the right answer to every question is always Jesus.  But the question carries us beyond what we know to assess the truth about how we live. There, the correct answer can be both more cutting and more difficult.

On his coronation day, the king on a cross invites us to live as he does.  See, the door to life lived in God with Jesus stands wide open. A hideous instrument of torture and death is transformed. The cross has become for us a trail marker, a cairn, to mark our path, and guide our feet. On the cross, Jesus shows us the way. He models for us how to live. “Truly I tell you,” Jesus said, “today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:43) Today. With me. Paradise. Jesus’ gracious words of forgiveness to the criminal hanging beside him are keys that unlock God’s grace in our life.  We are called to be a cruciform people.

The way of Jesus destroys the wisdom of the wise and the discernment of the discerning. Jesus is a different kind of king to be sure.  The passion narratives of all four gospels contrast the way of Jesus with the way of Judas.  The way of Judas is smart by worldly standards. The way of Jesus is foolishness. Judas avoids capture.  Jesus is seized into custody.  Judas is given free passage.  Jesus is beaten and sentenced to death. Judas operates for himself alone.  Jesus stands in solidarity with everyone, especially the poor and all those who suffer. Judas turns a tidy profit—30 pieces of silver. Jesus gives all that he has—even to losing his life on the cross.   (Pastor David Henry)

The way of Judas prioritizes self-preservation.  The way of Jesus values love. Think what Jesus was up against.  A ruthless Empire of occupation, a corrupt religious hierarchy, a blind, feckless people, faithless friends and betrayers threw their very worst at Jesus and still his heart was full, and his hands wide open.  From the cross, Jesus teaches there is nothing you can do to make God not love you.  ‘You can disappoint me,’ he says. ‘You can break my heart and grieve my Spirit.’  Yet the steadfast love and character of God shall remain unchanged. For “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life” (John 3:16).

Jesus, the king of kings and Lord of Lords, reigns from his throne on the cross, (Revelation 19:16). He bids us to follow. Set aside your fears and embrace the way of love—for that is the way which leads into the abundant life.  The choice is always yours.  Jesus or Judas?  Life or death?  Choose life. The path is open. The gate unlocked. Today. Come be with me in paradise.

Jesus saves us from the illusion that we can free ourselves by killing our enemies. Christ our king offers no path to glory that sidesteps humility, surrender, and sacrificial love.  The Lord does not grant me permission to secure my prosperity at the expense of another’s suffering.  There is no tolerance for the belief that holy ends justify debased means.  Truth telling is not optional. God’s kingdom favors the broken-hearted over the cynical and contemptuous. Christ’s church cannot thrive when it aligns itself with brute power. We cannot be Christ’s church offering right answers but not right living.  Where does this leave us?  I think it leaves us with a king who makes us uncomfortable.  (Debie Thomas, A King for This Hour, Journey with Jesus, 11/13/16)

Look.  It’s not easy.  In the name of Christ, the Church has embraced Judas over Jesus again and again throughout history.  The Doctrine of Discovery endorsed colonialism, genocide, and land theft and continues as people of faith stand by and watch the destruction of the planet.  Guided by the gospel of Judas more than Jesus, great majorities of sincere Christians supported the institution of slavery and remain willfully blind to the legacy of structural, systemic racism and privilege today. We grieve our evangelical brothers and sisters who energetically proclaim the anti-gospel of Christian nationalism which undermines biblical teaching for social justice, concern for the immigrant, and promotes the way of the gun over the way of peace. People of faith support bigotry and violence aimed at the LGBTQ community.  We grieve with families and friends of victims of those killed and wounded last night in a mass shooting in Colorado Springs. Lifted upon the cross, the gospel of Jesus calls us to account for our sin, to acknowledge our failings, and to climb down from our high horse.

Jesus hung in the gap between one man’s derision and another man’s hunger. Upon his death, the powers that be brushed their hands, confident they had put an end to this Jesus business once and for all.  Yet it was not the end, but only the beginning.  Death is inevitable—yes.  None of us can predict it.  We cannot avoid it.  None can control it.  Yet Christ has shown us we need not fear it.  The way of Judas is wrong. Life isn’t about just surviving. Jesus has shown us how to live.

St. Paul testified that Jesus is our cosmic king, “for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible…” (Colossians 1:16). Paul likely quoted these words from an early Christian hymn.  Jesus is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of the dead” (1:15).  Jesus rules, not with a scepter, but from a cross.  He reigns, not with the power of a dictator, but with power like that of an infant child in a manger.  He rules with love and not control.  He seeks brothers and sisters, not subjects.  The power of Jesus restores life and builds people up rather than dominates them.  The power of Christ the King, like the babe born in Bethlehem, or like an exhausted, bleeding, and humiliated man dying upon a cross –is as fragile and as tenacious as Life itself.

 Jesus or Judas? Christ the King loves you with an undying, unbreakable love. See, death is swallowed up by life and Life is all that remains. Jesus has shown us the Way of Life leads through and beyond death.  Despite our mistakes and failures, Jesus calls us to return to the path. Today. With me. In paradise.  My prayer for this hard season in America’s history is that we may help one another find ways to walk as Jesus walked — to spend ourselves for love of neighbors and strangers—to listen, to protect, to endure, to bless and to be a living sanctuary of hope and grace.