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Judah and Judas

I do not know why people are so inclined to keep promoting fear of condemnation as the main motive for conversion instead of God’s unconditional love

The “Judas” among the 12 sons of Jacob was the one who suggested to his brothers to sell Joseph for 20 pieces of silver instead of declaring him dead. Check out the story in Gen 37-50: the longest, most melodramatic telenovela kind of narrative in the Bible.

Recall how Jacob himself had entrusted the young Joseph to his brothers, how he had sent him to join them out in the field one day while they were tending their flocks. How, blinded by envy and resentment, they ganged up on him and wanted to kill him. Only Reuben had the good sense of trying to save him by suggesting to throw him instead into a dry cistern. But it was Judah (in Hebrew Yehudah, the same name as Judas) who proposed to sell him as a slave to Ishmaelite traders for 20 pieces of silver. And then they made up a story to break the news to their father Jacob that his favorite son had been attacked and eaten up by wild beasts in the wilderness. They even gave him Joseph’s torn multicolored cloak soaked in blood as evidence.

I imagine how these brothers had borne the grief of their father for the loss of Joseph for many years, out of guilt for what they had done. Now, fast forward—the brother whom they had sold as slave has become the governor of Egypt, the one who will save them from famine. He tests the wicked brothers by framing them up as thieves and demands as condition for their release that the one in whose possession the allegedly “stolen” silver goblets were to be found, should remain in Egypt as a slave. That happened to be the youngest—Benjamin.

In Gen 44, this becomes the moment of redemption for Judah (the original Judas); he steps up and tells Joseph that their father had earlier lost a son and almost died of grief. That, if they did not come back with their youngest brother, their father would certainly die. And so Judah proposes a deal—to take the place of Benjamin. If only to get Benjamin to return home to his father, he was willing to remain in Egypt as a slave in Benjamin’s stead. He says this in Genesis 44:33 “So now let me, your servant, remain in place of the boy as the slave of my lord, and let the boy go back with his brothers.”

He also says in Genesis 44:34 “How could I go back to my father if the boy were not with me? I could not bear to see the anguish that would overcome my father.” This was Judah’s way of verbalizing the suffering he had borne all these years that his father had grieved the loss of Joseph. It was his way of saying, “My own life is not even enough to pay for the tremendous suffering that I had caused on my father for selling my brother for 20 pieces of silver.”

It is then that the moment of disclosure takes place—Joseph reveals who he is and forgives Judah and the rest of his brothers. They are dumbfounded when they realize who he is. In Genesis 45:4 he says to them: “Come closer to me…I am your brother Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt.” Then he utters his words of forgiveness: Genesis 45:5 “But now do not be distressed, and do not be angry with yourselves for having sold me here. It was really for the sake of saving lives that God sent me here ahead of you.”

Genesis 45:7 “God, therefore, sent me on ahead of you to ensure for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives in an extraordinary deliverance.”

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I call this the moment of redemption—not just of Benjamin, but of Judah as well. The one sold for slavery becomes their savior. It is redemption also for Joseph himself—finally he is released from his victimhood. All the resentment he had nursed in his heart is gone. He is reconciled with his brothers and together, they reunite with their Jacob. Happy ending.

Now we switch to THE JUDAS OF THE NEW TESTAMENT, one of the twelve original apostles.

He steps up too, afflicted by remorse, after having sold Jesus for 30 pieces of silver. He must have suffered when he saw that Jesus had been condemned to be executed as a criminal on the cross. In Matthew 27:3-4 we are told that Judas “deeply regretted what he had done.” He made some desperate moves to save Jesus. Matthew tells us “He returned the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders saying, “I have sinned in betraying innocent blood.”

But it was too late. He wanted to do what the OT Judas had done—to make up for his act of betrayal, perhaps not just to return the money but to take take place of Jesus, to die in his stead. He will fail, of course. He will be so afflicted with remorse that he would take his own life instead. How sad that he was no longer there in that upper room when Jesus uttered the redeeming words over the morsel of bread he had received: “This is my body which will be given up for you…this is my blood of the new covenant poured out for you and for many, so that sins might be forgiven.”

He did not know when he stepped out of that upper room into the dark night that Jesus was already outwitting Satan by turning that meal of betrayal into a meal of forgiveness.

How can anyone make me believe that the morsel of bread that Judas had received was not “Eucharistic?” I’d dare say, the Eucharist was really for Judas and for sinners like you and me who are as capable of doing what Judas had done. That is why we call it the SACRAMENT OF LOVE. It is deeply moving to even think that before Judas could even consummate his act of betrayal, he was already being forgiven.

I am therefore deeply dismayed when I hear of people who insist on turning the Eucharist into an exclusive meal for the righteous. I wonder who among the disciples was righteous during that infamous night of the first Eucharist? Peter had indeed said he was willing to give up his life for Jesus. But he ended up denying his friend not once but three times when he was challenged to identify himself as a disciple of a convicted criminal. The others? James and John were competing for positions of power. The rest abandoned him after he was arrested at the garden of olives.

I am surprised how we are quick to judge an immature young man for “desecrating the body of Christ”, and forget how the “body of Christ” is routinely beaten up, abused, murdered extrajudicially in many poor people all over world.

So what is it that prevents us from seeing in the Eucharist “a body broken for broken people” like you and me? If our basic narrative of salvation is about the son of God as son of man, giving up his life as sacrificial lamb, as ransom for the redemption of sinful humanity, what makes us believe that God intends to save only the righteous and reserves nothing but hell or condemnation for sinners?

Didn’t he say in John 3:16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life?”

Didn’t he further say in John 3:17 “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him?”

I do not know why people are so inclined to keep promoting fear of condemnation as the main motive for conversion instead of God’s unconditional love.

Are the words of assurance from Paul in Romans 8:1 not enough? “…there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus!”

Why will we ever think of God as being against us when his whole purpose and mission is to save us? Why will we ever fear that God will throw us in hellfire? That he will allow us to be separated from his love? Paul has been very categorical about his stubborn faith in the Redeeming God. He said,

Romans 8:31 “What then shall we say to this? If God is for us, who can be against us?”

Romans 8:33 “Who will bring a charge against God’s chosen ones? It is God who acquits us.”

Romans 8:34 Who will condemn? It is Christ [Jesus] who died, rather, was raised, who also is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us.

So, who will throw us in hellfire? Not God, not his son. No one but ourselves.

And so he moves from WHO to WHAT. In Romans 8:35 he declares, “What will separate us from the love of Christ? Will anguish, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or the sword?”

Then he concludes in vv 37-39: “No, in all these things we conquer overwhelmingly through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

So please, do not ask me the question whether or not Judas deserved to be saved? Ask yourself rather: who does?

Homily of Bishop Pablo Virgilio David on Holy Wednesday, 5 April 2023, Mt 26:14-25

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