Monday, October 29, 2012

The Lord: Chapter 55, “Judas”

Dear friend,

Judas is the one Apostle whose name is a synonym. We know what Judas means. A Judas is a traitor.

Back in boarding school, we had a Judas in our class, or I thought of him that way. He was a kid who, as he was passing unceremoniously out the door in mid-term for some capital infraction, gave the dean of students a list of thirty-one fellow students with whom he had smoked dope.

Remember? Just before spring break in 1969? We were all outraged, those of us not quaking in our Weejuns over the prospect of reporting to Dean Bob. But that betrayal didn’t hold a candle to Judas’s treachery. The kid kicked out didn’t betray God, just his fellow students.

In this chapter, Romano Guardini retells the story of Judas, with his thirty pieces of silver and kiss in the garden and rope around the neck. RG quickly dispenses with a couple of long-standing theories of Judas’s betrayal: that he was a “mythical simplifcation of evil” or that he was a “great soul” motivated by the best intentions. 

Guardini shucks off theory and replaces it with common sense: “We must suppose that,” like the other eleven Apostles, “Judas really was well disposed,” meaning that “Judas must have come to Jesus with the genuine desire to believe and follow him, otherwise Jesus would not have accepted him.” But “like every other apostle, [Judas] brought his weaknesses with him. . . . His faith had to struggle with his avarice.” Guardini adds that “in Judas there must have been a streak of meanness. How, otherwise, could John call him hypocrite and thief?”

We don’t know what made Judas turn from Christ. Perhaps it was the Bread of Life discourse that scandalized so many others. It doesn’t matter. In fact, each of the other Apostles betrayed Jesus in smaller ways: Peter denied him, John fled, Thomas doubted. And so do we.

“Betrayal of the divine touches us all,” Guardini concludes. “What can I betray? That which has entrusted itself to my loyalty. But God—entrusted to me? Precisely.”

And so us, or those who used drugs in senior year and were “betrayed.” The real betrayal was ours—of our parents and our school, of the opportunity entrusted to us. Judas is a synonym, a cliché actually, because we are all Judases. Who of us has the “loyalty of heart,” the “chivalry of spirit” (I love that phrase) to remain true when God or even just goodness is in our midst?

“Aren’t there many days in our lives on which we sell him,” RG asks, “against our best knowledge, against our most sacred feeling, in spite of duty and love, for some vanity, or sensuality, or profit, or security, or some private hatred or vengeance? Are these more than thirty pieces of silver? We have little cause to speak of ‘the traitor’ with indignation or as someone far away and long ago. Judas himself unmasks us.

“We should beg God not to let the treachery into which we constantly fall become fixed within us.”

Yours truly,

This series of posts on Romano Guardini’s book The Lord continues here with chapter 56.

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