I am fascinated by the recent discovery of a supposed Gospel of Judas. Whether it is authentic remains to be seen. But the reality that it brings forth regarding Christian truth is something that I have contemplated for years.
Thirty years ago, when I was still deeply involved in creating religious sculpture, I decided to do a sculpture of Judas. People asked me why. The reason, I said, is very simple. He is the true Christ figure in the Gospels. He is the one man who had to sacrifice himself so that all the others could be saved. Without his betrayal Jesus could not fulfill his role in sacred history.
The Gospels painted him as a crude and venal betrayer, selling Jesus for a few pieces of silver. But if you read closely, his betrayal came after Jesus had betrayed Judas’ commitment to the poor by allowing himself to be anointed with oils that were so costly as to have fed a poor family for a year.
“The poor you will always have with you, you will not always have me,” is one of the most problematic statements attributed to Jesus in all of the Gospel writings. Apologists point to references in Deuteronomy; others point to Jesus’ claiming of his spiritual kingship and that this honor is not for him, but for the spiritual role he is destined to play.
But what Judas, an ordinary human being, thought, was not about his ultimate role in some version of salvation history, but that there was money to be given to feed the poor, and that it ended up being rubbed on Jesus’ head as an act of spiritual homage and benediction.
Who among us, with a caring heart, would not have a shadow of the same thought come across our mind, even if we felt that the person to whom the homage was being done was, in fact, the anointed bearer of an inconceivably powerful spiritual truth?
For those of you involved in Christian churches and the teaching of young people, this is surely a discussion worth having. For no faith should go unchallenged at its very foundations. Faith, by its very nature, is a belief against logic. If it is not, then it is simply knowledge. Faith requires the leap, the abandonment to a truth that cannot be proven.
The real power of any faith, Christian or otherwise, is revealed only after the leap is made. That is when it coalesces, orders the world, and builds upon itself.
The common mistake, it seems to me, is that people feel this coalescence and assume they have found truth. And they have, but they have found A truth. Whether or not it is THE truth is not for us to know.
Better, I think, to find a truth you can embrace — it is surely better than skepticism or a neutered objectivity — and then to open yourself to the truths of others. Embrace their beliefs if you can; listen to them with sympathy and compassion if you cannot.
Remember always, that “It is by their fruits that you shall know them.” If the fruits of their faith are dead innocents, whether in skyscrapers in New York or in family homes in Baghdad, be very wary of that faith, even if it seems based on some demonstrable scriptural principles.
Sometimes we have to stand against our spiritual leaders — Imams, evangelists, priests, popes, ministers — even if it costs us to be cast out and vilified.
This, in the long run, may end up being one of the oblique lessons of this reappraisal of Judas.
There is much more to be learned here, and much more to be studied. But theology, faith, belief, are living, growing things. We must remain open to possibility, even if it is the possibility that we are wrong.