Judas: snitch or whistleblower?

Judas. He the very symbol of betrayal - to that extent that when you look up “Judas” in a dictionary, you get “Traitor. Especially, one who betrays under the guise of friendship.” Tapestry columnist Peter Kavanagh thinks Judas deserves a closer look...
The Taking of Christ, Caravaggio

There's a historical figure so linked with certain fixed ideas that you'll find his name in the dictionary. He is Judas and he's the very embodiment of betrayal.  

Or - maybe he isn't.  

Tapestry columnist Peter Kavanagh thinks these moral judgements are complicated and it's time to give Judas a second look.  

Judas: A Matter of Faith, A Question of Confusion

by Peter Kavanagh

I am confused, I would go so far as to argue we are all confused, by Judas Iscariot.

Arguably the second most famous individual in the New Testament, a name that has become synonymous with that most base, that most vile of transgressions: betrayal.

On the one hand he is no big deal. He's just the guy who sold the son of God to the authorities for 30 pieces of silver. His actions led to the crucifixion, the rising from the dead, the emergence of a new powerful religion and the transformation of what we know as Western Civilization. On the other hand he is the epitome of what we call a rat, a snitch, a turn-coat. Every language, every culture has a term that stretches back to the vileness that was Judas and his willingness to sabotage the cause, sacrifice a friend, all for a reward.

So on that night, outside the Garden of Gethsemane, when according to some of the Gospels, Judas leaves the last supper, flees to the authorities and agrees to betray Jesus the troublemaker, Jesus the rebel who might bring down the wrath of the Romans… let me ask you, what was the right thing for Judas? How do we understand what Judas should have done?

After all the betrayal is necessary. Jesus needs to die, it is the deed that changes everything. Jesus needs to be betrayed, it is the missing piece in the story. Jesus knows Judas will betray him, according to the Gospel of John. And for two thousand years we have argued about whether Judas was a pawn in a greater story line, a dupe or even a tool of both the authorities and God.

Let's think Judas through for a moment. Judas has given the idea of a snitch a bad rep and yet we all encounter situations in which we are asked to do exactly what Judas did and to feel no regrets, no hesitation. Crime Stoppers makes regular pleas for people to call if they know anything. In airports there are signs everywhere… if you see something, say something. Our intelligence services ask us all to report any and every suspicious behaviour we witness or hear about. Our governments want snitches, except when they don't.

Is Edward Snowden a Judas? When the man fled his job with the National Security Agency and released a host of documents detailing government misdeeds, was he doing the right thing or was he endangering Americans by betraying his country?

Surely being a snitch can't be a good thing or a bad thing simply based on whether we agree with the outcome. But then again, maybe it is that simple. If we like a snitch, then we call them something different. Imagine how changed the world would be if Judas the Snitch was Judas the Whistleblower.  

Who or what was Judas' loyalty to? Was he supposed to be loyal to his country, Israel? Was he supposed to be loyal to his friend Jesus? Is your head hurting? Mine is.

There is a saying in the legal world that hard cases make bad laws. And what it really means is that we should try and manage our affairs within the normal course of events, not out at the extremes. If we set all the rules for the extremes, we do all the issues that aren't extreme an injustice.

Judas is a hard case and Judas results in too many bad rules, too many loose admonitions about loyalty, commandments, and obeying the will of God.

In all the evolution of the Christian Story that has taken place, we have done so much rethinking of so many characters in the New Testament and the Old. We've re-thought Mary, we've reconsidered the Gospels, reconfigured the devil, given Peter a pass on denying he knew Christ, forgiven Thomas for doubting Christ, we have on occasion wrestled with the very meaning of truth in the biblical sense but we have yet to confront the most human, the most damaged individual in the entire story, Judas.

Remember, Judas regrets his betrayal, he tries to return the money, he despairs, he commits suicide. Judas is a troubled individual who played a critical, necessary role and suffered grievously for doing so, at the time and historically. Heck, even Pontius Pilate and King Herod get off relatively easy compared to Judas.

I'll leave you with this: Judas needs, Judas deserves his own reformation. We need to rethink simplistic definitions of loyalty and the idea that there is always a black and white answer to any issue, to every issue. We need to do this because it is right to do so and because frankly it will be better for all of us.

Enough with simplistic ideas of doing the right thing. The right thing is seldom obvious. If it was, it wouldn't be something that required thinking through. Don't believe me, ask Judas.