I would like to enter a plea of mercy on behalf of Judas Iscariot in the light of Fr Gallagher's article of May 12. I admit to being a complete layperson with regard to theological and biblical studies, unlike Fr Gallagher, but I want to take issue with him on this article. Not only was I dismayed when I read it, but somewhat indignant.
According to Fr John Gallagher SJ, Judas Iscariot was a traitor, a sinister antagonist, and a petty thief bent on his own selfish ambition and needs. Yet this man was chosen by Christ himself to be an apostle. If he was such a despicable person why did Christ want him? Did Jesus not know what this man was like or what he was likely to do?
If we believe that Jesus Christ is God, and God is omniscient, then we must believe that Jesus knew exactly the character and personality of his treasurer. (Far better than John Gallagher, who has no personal knowledge of the Iscariot.) Yet Jesus did not slander him.
There are probably many reasons why Judas chose to follow Jesus, but I doubt whether his primary motive was to set out to trap and finally betray Christ. Perhaps the historical facts about the political climate of the day might help us to understand Judas' motives for wanting to follow Christ. Judea was not known for its passive acceptance of Roman domination and power: there were many riots, skirmishes, and disturbances, exceedingly so at the time of Christ's ministry. There were groups sworn to overthrowing Roman authority and reestablishing Jewish law.
Judas, it is said, had strong sympathies with these groups and from time to time probably supported them. He was longing for the time when there would be a great leader to unite the Jews. What better man, Judas might have thought, than this holy man — perhaps the Messiah — who would surely deliver his people. Had Jesus not talked of bringing a new life? "Do not imagine that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have come to bring 1. a sword not peace." (Matt 10:34 We might know now what the true interpretation of those words mean, but to Judas 2,000 years ago (at a time of constant unrest and the fervent expectation of the Messiah) it probably meant that the Messiah was here. So can we blame him for joining Christ and the other apostles?
It was only after constant companionship with Christ that Judas realised that his Messiah was not exactly the leader he thought: his messages were always of love, peace, eternal life: "Love your enemies, do good to those who hurt you."
Judas was very likely confused about the whole thing and maybe so disillusioned and bitter as to betray Jesus, but only to have him out of the way, not his ultimate Crucifixion. He admits this at the end: "I have sinned. I have condemned an innocent man."
There was his remorse, his repentance. How great, in his eyes, was his offence? How could Christ, on his way to his own death, ever forgive him? It isn't that Judas did not ask for forgiveness from Christ; he probably didn't think he could ask.
With regard to Judas' attitude to the poor we cannot say that he had contempt for them, as John Gallagher states. In the episode concerning the precious ointment, Judas' concern for the waste of money might well have been heartfelt: the money could quite easily have been given to the poor.
Judas might also have thought that the poor needed freedom from their oppressors as well as freedom from destitution. He wasn't the only one to be admonished for utterances against waste, On another occasion, while Jesus was at the house of Simon the
Leper, ointment was used and "the disciples were indignant when they saw it. What is the meaning of this waste they asked. It would have been possible to sell this at a great price and give the alms to the poor ..." (Matt.26:8-10). They were duly admonished by Jesus: ". . .You have the poor among you always; I am not always among you. . .
The role of Christ was to suffer and die so that man might have eternal life. He prophesied this many times. ". . . Now we are going up to Jerusalem and there the Son of Man will be given up into the hands of the chief priests and scribes who will comdemn him to death." (Matt 20:18-19).
The role of Judas was that of betrayer. This had been foretold by Christ, and John tells us in his Gospel: "Jesus knew from the first which were those who did not believe and which of them was to betray him." (John 6).
But Judas was not the only apostle to betray Christ. Peter was to deny vehemently that he ever knew the Galilean.
Jesus had to die in order that the prophecies should be fulfilled. Judas had to betray Jesus in order for Jesus to die. So we may suppose that if it hadn't been Judas it would have been someone else.
We cannot excuse Judas for what he did, but if we cannot be certain of God's final judgment neither can we condemn him. . ."Let him who is without sin cast the first stone."
It is true that Judas committed the ultimate sin of despair, but we cannot know if God rejected him. Even Jesus suffered from despair. ."My God. My God why hast Thou forsaken me?"
At the same time Jesus also asked his Father to forgive his persecutors . . "Father forgive them, fur they know not what they do." Could this not equally be a plea for mercy of his betrayer, Judas. I would like to think so. It would give hope, too, for all those who are confused and desperate enough to commit the ultimate sin of despair.
We have no certainty of God's final judgment: we have been told by Christ to forgive one another no matter how often or how great the injury done. So how great then is the forgiveness of God? ... "There is no one who speaks a word against the Sort of Man but may find forgiveness." (Luke 12:10).
(Mrs) Marie Hata Macclesfield,
I write in regard to Fr John Gallagher's article of May 12 headed "Judas Iscariot's ultimate sin." I would ask first what was the intention of writing such an article? The "ultimate sin" of which Fr Gallagher writes is despair, hut of this he says very little.
As a theological consideration, if this was the intention, the article seems to me to be of little worth, If, as it appears, it is a description of Judas Iscariot and the events in which he was involved, then it must be said that the assurance with which the events are presented disguises the fact that what Fr Gallagher has written is an unproven fiction in litany respects, presented as truth.
The quotation with which the article begins is described simply as a psalm, and I have therefore not been able to consider the part which Fr Gallagher quotes, in its context. Even so, as given, it hardly supports Fr Gallagher's claim that it foretells Judas Iscariot's betrayal of Christ.
It says nothing of betrayal, only of taunting. It is interesting that it is addressed to "my equal". Is this how Jesus thought of Judas when, Fr Gallagher elsewhere tells us, Jesus claimed to be "Son of God"?
Fr Gallagher then proceeds to blacken, in a traditional manner, Judas character, using texts as evidence, which come from John's Gospel and are therefore of doubtful authenticity.
It should be recalled that in the
stoiof the anointing of Jesus, and the consequent indignation at the waste of money that could have been given to the pour, Mark (14:4) assigns such indignation to "some" of those with Jesus; Matthew (26:8), to the "disciples" of Jesus; Luke (7:39) to a "Pharisee". and only John, to Judas. It is only John who suggests that Judas was a thief. It is onfy Matthew who says Judas betrayed Jesus for money. Fr Gallagher seems totally unaware of the suggestion thut Judas, as a Zealot sympathiser, was attempting to force Jesus to fulfil the Messianic hopes of the Jews.
In the rest of his article, Fr Gallagher continues to misuse the texts in order to present his vivid but fictitious account, even to the extent of naming Peter as the one who drew tne sword to defend Jesus (again, it is only John who gives this name), and recounting the legendary aspect of the healing of the ear,
Surely it is not too much to ask that priests of the Church, such as Fr Gallagher, should — like Er Henry Wansbrough, who writes the ever-useful "Scripture Notebook" — pay more respect to the Scriptures, where they agree, and where (as so often) ally disagree, when attempting to re-create the actual events of Jesus' life; and also, pay more respect to their readers. at least to the extent of giving refer enecs to quotations.
Gerard Patrick Loughlin Solihull, West Midlands.