Judas, More Than A Betrayer? – A Sermon On John 13:21-32 For Wednesday In Holy Week

Judas in William Blake's The Last Supper -By William Blake - The William Blake Archive, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=33553430

Wednesday in Holy Week – John 13:21-32

Judas in William Blake’s The Last Supper -By William Blake – The William Blake Archive, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons 

What comes to mind when you hear the name Judas? 

For most of us, I suspect, the first thing we think of is betrayal. Judas is the one who betrayed Jesus. Judas is the one who made a deal with the authorities. Judas is the one who sold out. Judas is the one who “went out” into the “night.”

Maybe the second thing that comes to mind is a sense of relief. “The disciples looked at one another, uncertain” who among them was the betrayer. “Lord, who is it?” one of them asks, but they all want to know. Their uncertainty and that question betray the possibility it could be anyone one of them. I’ll bet Peter and the others breathed a sigh of relief when Jesus gave the piece of bread to Judas. 

You know what that’s like, right? Did you ever sit in class knowing the teacher was going to call on someone, looking at all the other students, and hoping it wouldn’t be you, but knowing it might be? Have you ever been called to a meeting after something happened, someone was in trouble, and the boss began by saying, “Who…?” And everyone looked around. Have you ever been in a situation where you knew someone was going to be named, picked, and you held your breath hoping it was anyone but you? And do you remember that sense of relief when it was Judas and not you? (At least not this time.) And you said to yourself, “Whew, that was a close call.”

We’ve all shared the disciples’ sigh of relief. The betrayal of Judas lets us off the hook. We can point to and look at him as way, a reason, an excuse, to not look at ourselves. We refuse to see that there might be more to Judas than his betrayal of Jesus. And I wonder if that’s our betrayal of Judas. We so often hear “the betrayal of Judas” as meaning Judas is the subject, the one who betrays. But what about “the betrayal of Judas” in which Judas is the object, the one betrayed? Here’s why I asks that.

The only time we hear about Judas in the scriptures is at the end of the story. We know the end-of-the-story-Judas, the Judas who betrays Jesus, but what about the beginning-of-the-story-Judas? I want to hold these two Judases in tension. They go together. They are two aspects of his life. To privilege one over the other is a betrayal of his life. Would you want someone to pick out a single event from your life and say that it defines who you are, who you’ve always been, and who you will always be? I don’t. (Not unless I get to pick the event!) And yet that’s what we’ve done to Judas, what we do to people in our lives, and sometimes what we do to ourselves. No one is ever just one thing; not Judas, not you, not me. 

Judas’ name appears in the four gospels twenty times. Nine times he is identified as a traitor, the one who betrays Jesus. And nine times he is identified as one of the twelve, one of the chosen, a disciple.

I wonder what Judas felt the day he was chosen and numbered among the twelve? What did he feel when Jesus called his name? What were his hopes, and dreams? What excited him about Jesus? What gifts was he given? What was the promise he sought and followed in Jesus? With what was he entrusted? 

He had to have been entrusted with something. I think we sometimes forget that side of Judas. Entrustment of some kind always comes before betrayal. You cannot betray unless you’ve first been given something to betray; love, friendship, trust, confidence, responsibility, a call.

Promise and risk always come together. Every promise is made and accepted with the risk it might be broken or not fulfilled in the way promised. Every gift is given with the risk it might not be opened, it might be returned, or it might be thrown away. 

It’s not one or the other. It’s both at the same time. Before Judas was ever the betrayer he was an entrusted one. And aren’t we all? We’ve all been entrusted with something and we all carry the risk that we might betray that entrusting. 

I think that’s the story of Judas. And it’s our story too. He is an image of ourselves. He holds before us the tension between trust and betrayal; a tension that lives within us, and a tension within which we live. 

What does that tension look like in your life? Look at the people, relationships, opportunities in your life. Look at your values and beliefs, hopes, and dreams. With what have you been entrusted? What gifts and promises have been given you? In what ways are they calling to you? What are they asking of you? And how are you responding? 

Don’t make this into a judgment, good or bad, right or wrong. Just recognize the complexities and contradictions that constitute our lives, that constituted Judas’ life. Let that inform and guide how you want to live.

And let’s not forget this one last thing about Judas. His feet were washed just like the feet of the other disciples. He was loved by Jesus with the same love as were the others. With all the complexities and contradictions of his life he had a seat at the table with Jesus. And so do we. 


  1. Judas is an interesting and (for me) confusing character. He, in a sense, “enables” salvation – a view that Jorge Borges explores in “Three Versions of Judas” and “The Sect of Thirty.” In the Gospel, Judas seems to have little choice – in Luke 22, we get this as they are all at table: “ Then entered Satan into Judas surnamed Iscariot” – one could argue that Judas did not fight Satan hard enough, but did he really have a chance? In any case, I enjoyed your exploration. It is also of note that the three people Satan is gnawing on at the pit of Dante’s Inferno were Judas, Brutus, and Cassius – all people who betrayed their friends. Complexities and contradictions indeed!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, Judas is an enigmatic person (aren’t we all?) that raises lots of questions. Thanks for the Borges reference. I’ve not read him but I think I would like him. I’ve also wondered if Judas could have resisted and said no. And I’ve wondered if Mary could have said no. Yes, so many complexities and contradictions and what ifs.

      God’s peace be with you,


  2. What an inspiring set of observations and questions. So many ways to tell the story and explore the “tensions”. What if Judas can be described as the one who delivered the “gift” of the crucifixition and resurrection? Is “gift” an appropriate word to use and, if so, how does that use of the word relate to the “gifts” delivered by the wise men to the baby? In a way, all “gifts from God” delivered by God’s messenger?


    Liked by 1 person

  3. I was the car and a commentary was being given on Judas. The author made mention of the fact that he was the longest living disciple and in his older age he wrote a book of the bible. I was in traffic and would have liked to pulled over to listen intently to the discussion. It seemed to be that he made a huge difference in his recovery and in the book he wrote. What book in the bible was the lecturer referring to? I thought Judas would be a good example for someone who was recovering from his weaknesses..


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