I’ve always been fascinated by complicated villains; they’re often my favorite characters. Loki. Rumplestiltskin. Javert. Snape. The Joker. Gollum. Moriarty. Thanos. (Yes that’s two for Marvel )
Not only does a complex villain make for a more compelling story, it shows us that any one of us is capable of becoming a villain.
I think that’s why I’ve always been affected by Judas and his connection to Jesus. He walked with Jesus throughout his ministry, among the twelve people Jesus kept closest. And then he handed Jesus over to his death in exchange for 30 pieces of silver, the same price someone would have been expected to pay if they caused the death of another’s servant.
Today is Holy Tuesday. On this day in the last week of Jesus’ life, Judas conspired with those who wished to kill Jesus. Two days later, he would betray Jesus with a kiss.
It’s not entirely clear what caused Judas to betray Jesus… Some think he was simply greedy (John repeatedly explains Judas is a thief). Some say he was a zealot attempting to force Jesus’ hand to make him the political ruler Judas thought the Messiah would be. Still others say he didn’t mean for it to be a betrayal or at least didn’t know to the extent things would go.
I often read about how people acted around Jesus 2,000 years ago and think, “How could they not see it?! He was right in front of them! If I had him right in front of me, it would be so much easier. I’d treat him differently than these people did.”
But the truth is he is right in front of me. And the even harder truth is I’m no better than Judas.
Jesus told us we’d be recognizable as his followers based on how we love each other. He said that the way we treat those who are hurting, poor, sick, broken is basically the way we’re treating him.
Every choice I make that benefits me but neglects others. Every time I look the other way or stay silent when people are hurting. Every word I say out of selfishness. Every bitter thought I harbor. With every word and action that defiles the imago Dei, I take my portion of that silver that nailed Jesus to the cross. I’m already the villain. But every day I wake up is an opportunity to repent, grow, and do better.
Judas was so distraught when Jesus was sentenced to death that he ended his own life. This is probably the most heartbreaking and also the most beautiful part of this whole story for me. Judas’ life had value, even after he made the choices he did, even after the irreparable damage he’d done, but he didn’t see it, and that’s devastating. But through all of this, Jesus loved him, forgave him, and died for him. And that’s amazing.
Sculpture: “Il Bacio di Giuda” (“The Kiss of Judas”) by Ignatius Jacometti, installed at Scala Sancta (Holy Stairs) in Rome