Wednesday, April 12, 2006

What Kind of Disciple Was Judas?

By Mitchell

In the old Church calendar today was known as Spy Wednesday, and so it seemed like an good time to consider the question of Judas. He's been in the news a lot lately, what with this talk about the "Gospel of Judas," but Jimmy Akin provides an excellent debunking of that whole idea here.

No, what I'm wondering is what kind of a disciple Judas was. Was he ever any good? Almost invariably when he's mentioned in the Gospels, it's with the appendage, "who later betrayed Him." John in particular views him with total scorn - look at Monday's Gospel for example. ("This he said, not that he cared for the poor but because he was a thief, and as he had the money box he used to take what was put into it.' ") Now, a lot of this could simply be understood as a retrospective look at Judas' character, written with the hindsight of his betrayal. But John calls him a thief, and so we wonder if there were other clues, indications that Judas might not be what he claimed to be.

When Jesus sent the disciples out in pairs to preach the word, heal the sick, and so forth, He would have included Judas. So one wonders: did he ever heal anyone, ever cast out demons? Did his preaching ever make any converts? Did he do his fair share of the work, or was he content to sit back and let his partner do all the heavy lifting? Perhaps he lacked the gifts of the others, or possibly it was never in him at all. "You're better at this than I am," he might have said (almost apologetically), explaining why he'd do all the talking when they arrived in a new town but would leave it to the other disciple when it came to things like healing.

Eventually this would have started some talking, especially in a group as close-knit as the apostles. Would they have looked strangely at him, whispering when his back was turned? Did they see his failures in those key areas to be signs of weakness, of the possibility that he wasn't like the rest of them, that he was a fraud? That would explain a great deal of John's hostility, for example. "There's something about that one that bears watching," they might have thought. In today's parlance, he might be considered high-risk, a misfit, someone who didn't belong. This isn't to feel sorry for him, merely to suggest that the signs might have been there from the beginning, telling the other disciples to watch out. We'll never know the answers, of course, at least not in this world. It's possible that someone has already written at length about this topic, one of the early Church fathers for example. But the question continues to intrigue us.

In his homily today Fr. Pavlik looked at this question from another angle. Where the other disciples heard the teachings of Jesus and took these teachings to their hearts, Judas merely heard words. Where the other disciples made Christ an integral part of their very lives, Judas simply went through the motions. He attended all the meetings, went along on all the trips, was seen in public with his fellow disciples at the side of Jesus. From all outward appearances, Judas was loyal, attentive, indistinguishable from the other eleven.

Jesus knew better, of course, and quite possibly so did the rest of them. Outwardly Judas may have appeared a model disciple, but Jesus knew what was in his heart. And perhaps this is the lesson we should all take from Spy Wednesday. We attend Mass, we listen to Christ's words in the Gospel, we lead what we like to think of as a Christian life. Outwardly we make an impression on others.

But what will Christ find when He spies on our hearts? Will He find His love, His teachings, His imprint? Or will our hearts simply reflect our own vanity, our concern with how we look, how we are seen by others, how we perceive ourselves?

That is the mystery of Judas, and as we enter the Triduum let us pray that we find the answer, the one that can come only from Christ Jesus.

UPDATE: AdoroTeDevote has been thinking about Judas too, with a very provocative, heartfelt piece that asks more interesting questions.

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