Judges 16:4-6, 16-21 & Mark 14:32-46
Their names have down come through time as definitions of betrayal. Benedict Arnold, out of our formative American history; Marcus Junius Brutus, the Roman who made the Ides of March infamous; Vidkun Quisling, the Nazi puppet leader in WWII Norway, whose name even the charitable work of a whole family of Quislings in Madison could not fully redeem; and above all, he who is the patron saint of traitors, Judas Iscariot.
Traitors. Betrayers. All the more heinous because each had been so very close to the person, to the cause, to the love which they betrayed. As Shakespeare puts the words into Marc Anthony’s mouth after the assassination of Julius Caesar, For Brutus, as you know, was Caesar’s angel. / Judge, O you gods, how dearly Caesar lov’d him! / This was the most unkindest cut of all; / For when the noble Caesar saw him stab, / Ingratitude, more strong than traitors’ arms, / Quite vanquish’d him: then burst his mighty / heart…. Ah, but like Samson who had his Delilah, even the noble Marc Anthony will come to betray Rome for the love of the Egyptian queen, Cleopatra.
The contemporary writer, Barbara Kingsolver, has said, “Every betrayal contains a perfect moment, a coin stamped heads or tails with salvation on the other side.” “…on the other side.” Oh, the tragedy!
It’s a fascinating thing to see what has developed over the last 50 years…this tendency to justify a betrayal. Consider Judas. For centuries he has been known as the disciple who betrayed Jesus. His kiss. The 30 pieces of silver. They are immortal metaphors for betrayal. But since the 1960s…
The famous rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar only put into musical form what many unorthodox Biblical scholars and theologians were doing in the 60s, trying to rehabilitate Judas.
In Superstar, Judas is the lead, the hero, portrayed as a tragic victim of forces much bigger than he. He blames Jesus. “Every time I look at You I don’t understand Why You let the things you did get so out of hand.” He blames Jesus for His own betrayal! Then he blames God for driving him to suicide. “God! I’ll never ever know why You chose me for Your foul, bloody crime! You have murdered me!” But trying to cut Judas free from the noose of his betrayal only shows how much we have lost the Gospel!
Judas could have flipped those 30 coins as often as he wanted, and, heads or tails, salvation would have remained on the other side. No, not because his betrayal is worse than all others…but because he would not see. All Judas could do was blame, blame and accuse. He was blind. He could not see that the Christ was going to His cross for such as he.
The story of Samson, as you may remember from Sunday School days, ends tragically. And yet…it is written in such a way that we can hear Good Friday in Samson’s death. While in prison, Samson’s shaven locks grow back. Blind, he is led into the temple of the Philistine god, Dagon, so that the Philistines can make fun of him, jeering as if to say, “He saved others but he cannot save himself.”
Standing by the supporting pillars, Samson prays, “O Lord God, please remember me and please strengthen me only this once, O God, that I may be avenged on the Philistines…” And with his great strength, he pulls the temple down on himself and the jeering enemies of Israel.
The writer of the Book of Judges concludes, “So the dead whom he killed at his death were more than those whom he killed during his life.” Samson, the Judge and Savior of Israel, redeemed his people from their enemies by his own death.
Yes, history has long honored the act of a betrayer who repents and offers up his own life to redeem those he betrayed. “It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known.”
But greater still, far, far greater still is the redemption in Jesus Christ, who dies to redeem not only His Israel, but the Judases as well…if they would but see. Even Simon Peter became a Judas and betrayed his Lord in the courtyard. “I do not know the Man!” But when the rooster crowed, Peter saw his salvation in Jesus, though he wept bitterly. Judas, too, wept bitterly, but he refused to see that this same salvation was his as well.
Our own betrayals of God will never attain to the magnitude of a Judas or a Quisling…but our own sin is a betrayal, nonetheless. By our sin, in thought, word or deed, by what we have done and by what we have left undone, we too betray our God…and the betrayals always find ways to touch others. And shall we justify our betrayals? Find others to blame for what we ourselves have done?
Where cross the crowded ways of life…of paths luring with betrayal…we catch the vision of Thy tears, O Son of Man. And we see, for You open our eyes to see: “For me…You died for Me!”