Sunday, March 13th, 2016 – A Letter to Judas

You can listen to this sermon here.

John 12:1-8
1 Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. 2 There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him. 3 Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. 4 But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said, 5 “Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?” 6 (He said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it.) 7 Jesus said, “Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. 8 You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.”

Dear Judas,

I can’t leave you alone. You haunt me and I can’t get you out of my mind.

When I hear of you, I’m haunted by heartache for you.

Which isn’t how it’s supposed to be. I’m supposed to want nothing to do with you. They say you were a thief. A traitor. Filled with the devil. I’m supposed to denounce you and turn my back on you like you did to Jesus.

But I just can’t. There is something about you and your story that hurts, in a familiar way. Because I wonder if you, like the rest of us, long to be known for more than your lowest moment in life.

I got to be you once. In a play.

At first, I portrayed you as angry and cruel. Because, what did I know? But after awhile, that changed as I played you softer and more tragic.

There is more to your story, I think, than we know. After all, Jesus did choose you to be one of the twelve.

The problem is we hear so little about you until that day at Lazarus’ house.
All of you gathered there after Jesus had just raised Lazarus from the dead. That had been the final straw for those threatened by Jesus and now there was a warrant out for Jesus’ death. Even the dead can’t stay dead around this guy. So Caiaphas, the high priest that year, decided it would be better for Jesus to die than for the city to be torn apart by his rule-breaking behavior. You all thought you’d be safe there from the lynch mob searching for Jesus.

You all shared a meal together. Martha was the cook, of course. Lazarus and Jesus sat near each other, just a couple of dead guys hanging out. One – formerly, the other – soon to be. Your days were numbered too, Judas, but no one there knew it.

And then it happened.

Mary wandered off without saying anything, bring a jar of perfume that was left over from Lazarus’ funeral. Silently, she knelt at Jesus’ feet and began to pour.

And pour. And pour. And pour.

The whole jar, on to Jesus’ feet and flooding the floor. It was a beautiful smell, but overwhelming too. The entire house was filled with it.

With her hands, Mary massaged the oil into Jesus’ feet. At one point she reached back and pulled the pin out of hair, letting everything fall to her shoulders, and using her hair as a towel on his feet.

It was too much for you. They weren’t even married!

All you could see was Mary’s rule-breaking behavior, and you missed the love being displayed between them.

Like many of us do when confronted or threatened by a vulnerable expression of love, you tried to take a moral high ground. You called the question. What a waste this was. Perfume worth a year’s wages poured out on the floor? Couldn’t it have been sold and given to the poor?

Sometimes I wish Jesus had said that. It sounds like something he’d say. Though, I don’t know if we would be any better at caring for the poor if he had.

Jesus responded to you with something that continues to puzzle us. Leave her alone…You will always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me. Did he say that just for you? Or did he say that for us too?

I think it was just for you. Because he knew you.

I wonder if there was strange comfort in that. Being known in that moment. He knew that you weren’t really worried about the poor and for that reason, you, Judas, would always have the poor with you. You were worried about yourself. You hadn’t yet learned what Jesus wanted you to learn, and he wouldn’t be there much longer to teach you.

But you couldn’t see it.

I find myself wondering… with so much oil on the floor, did your feet get anointed too? Was there any way to avoid stepping in it? With some much perfume in the air, was your whole body steeped in this fragrance of love too?

Maybe that was the point that you couldn’t see. This prophet Mary was showing you all what Jesus had been showing all along – costly, messy, abundant love of God. Grace upon grace poured out for all. And for all to share. The uninhibited love Mary is showing is how God loves. Wildly, extravagantly. God’s love is a love that breaks free from all rules and manners that try to contain it and with such abundance that it seeps into the skin of everyone.

But you couldn’t see it. I think you, like most of us, just couldn’t see what was right in front of you. You were blinded by the light of vulnerable love and you ran from it. So many of us do that too.

Jesus tried a few more times to teach you.

A few days later, mimicking Mary, Jesus knelt down at your feet and washed them with brotherly love. And asked you to do the same with your life. Then at that last meal, he identified you as his betrayer by handing you a piece of bread.

Who confronts their betrayer by feeding them? Jesus, I guess.

He tried. But it didn’t change anything. You and I know how things ended.

I say all of this because there is something I need to tell you, Judas. I see because you couldn’t. I see Mary’s act of love more clearly because you couldn’t. Your presence there in that moment. You and your smug and safe (and yet fearful) comment didn’t over shadow Mary’s act. It brightened it.

Like the dark backdrop of the evening sky helps me to see the stars, you helped me to see more clearly Mary and her gracious and prophetic act of God’s abundant love and our call to be bearers of that love.

I write to say thank you. Because of you, I can see Jesus and that abundant love of God more clearly.

It would be easy to forget you. To put you in a box and label you bad. But I can’t. I can’t because I know myself too well to paint you with one brush. I fail to see the abundant love of God all the time.

We are just like you. Caught up in things we cannot see. Longing for the world to be different, but unable to see the abundance of God’s love that already is.

Because of you, I can see more clearly now and I’m grateful for that. In so many ways, your failure, your loss has been my gain. And that’s an odd thing to say. Knowing how I’m supposed to think of you. What do I do with that?

In the end, I don’t know if you ever got Jesus’ message. That the spine of the snake can only be broken by love. That humble service and compassion for your neighbor and enemy is what restores you. Revenge never can. But I guess that’s not the point I’m trying to make. The point isn’t about what message you did or didn’t get in the end; it’s about what you had all along.

That abundant love of God. It was for you too, Judas.

Some might see it as wasted love if it was poured out on you. But it’s a love wasted on all of us.

Maybe that’s why I can’t leave you alone. It would be against that extravagant and messy and abundant love of God to do so.

With hope and love for you and for us all,
Your brother in Christ

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