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Thinking like Judas

March 27, 2013

Verse for reflection: Jesus said to Judas, “Hurry and do what you must!” None of the others at the table understood why Jesus said this to him. Since Judas was in charge of the money bag, some of the disciples thought that Jesus had told him to go buy what they needed for the festival, or to give something to the poor. Judas … went out at once. It was night.  John 13: 27 b – 30.

Do you remember the 1971 rock opera, Jesus Christ, Superstar? I got to see it in London, 1974, on a spring break while on my junior year in Spain. But I hadn’t really listened to the music much until driving three hour jaunts to pick up my daughters at college; it became a favorite CD.

I recalled that some churches criticized the musical/opera in the 70s because it doesn’t include the resurrection of Jesus, and because of worries that Jesus’ relationship with Mary Magdalene was hinted to be more than that of a good friend. Indeed, I had forgotten that it was deemed so controversial at first that only a recording was made; later it went to stage and then finally to movie.

But the music masterfully brings the life and thought of Jesus into public thought, confronting people with the facts of Jesus’ life. This is a service in itself, given our times when many folks know too little biblical history. It also allows viewers to make up their own minds about Jesus—which is what has to happen anyway in matters of the heart.


The opera focuses on the last seven days of Jesus’ life as seen by one of his followers, Judas Iscariot. Judas is the ultimate bad guy: rarely do you hear of anyone today who has named his or her child “Judas” or “Iscariot.” On the surface, Judas betrayed a friend and a good—even sinless—man, Jesus. What a loser Judas was; he deserves our scorn.

Yet I’m afraid many of us would have been just like Judas—a little mixed up and confused about who Jesus was and what he was trying to do. Judas was, after all, a disciple; he was part of the gang. He initially was attracted to Jesus and his teachings, and loved him enough to be one of Jesus’ faithful 12 followers.

I think that Judas sincerely thought that Jesus was making a big mistake and was trying to stop him.  I wrote a little about that disillusionment  here.  The fact that Judas gave back the 30 pieces of silver that he received for betraying Jesus, and then took his own life, shows us the depths of the remorse and anguish that he felt.

The conflict as portrayed in Jesus Christ, Superstar is of course purely the imagination of the writer, but lyricist Tim Rice has Judas sing:

“Listen Jesus, do you care for your race?
Don’t you see we must keep in our place?
We are occupied
Have you forgotten how put down we are?
I am frightened by the crowd
For we are getting much too loud
And they’ll crush us if we go too far …”

Put yourself in the disciples’ shoes. A teacher you respect and admire because he is so wise and warm and who helps everyone he comes in contact with, slowly lets you in on a bigger secret: he is also the Messiah, the son of God. Who of us wouldn’t jump back and say whoa, you have illusions of grandeur. You’re starting to believe your own press. Maybe you’ve been running around in the desert too long. Who is this guy, anyway? Cult leader? Maybe I’ve been mistaken in hanging around with him.

And here we are, almost 2,000 years after Jesus’ death, still pondering the meaning of it all. People today still have trouble with the Son of God part. We are still thinking like Judas. We are still thinking like Peter, who, when it counted, swore he didn’t know Jesus.

Action: Forgive me, Lord.


Third Way Cafe website has some pages of different ways of looking at Jesus, or for more facts on the historical Jesus.

Photo acting out crucifixion courtesy of Stuart Miles


From → Faith

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