There is a character in the New Testament many of us know about: Judas Iscariot.
Judas plays a key role in the story of Jesus the Messiah, for he is the one who reveals the location of Jesus to the Chief Priests. This started the process of Jesus being found guilty of heresy, ultimately leading to his murder on the cross for being an enemy of the Roman State. Judas was filled with grief when he discovered Jesus was condemned to death, so he made the attempt to return the payment he received for betraying Jesus.
Attempting to return it to the chief priests with, what I believe would have been tear leaking eyes, said that he had “betrayed innocent blood.”
“What is that to us?” they replied, “That is your responsibility.”
Judas threw the money down in the temple and went away.
Judas hanged himself.
I remember reading through this story and thinking how horrible Judas was, and how he got what he deserved for his decisions. His choices led him to the ultimate consequence of killing himself, seemingly believing there was no hope for him. He made his choice. His choices were his responsibility and he needed to face the consequences.
Today I read this story and I see Judas as an archetype for the deviants seeking penitents in society we so quickly dismiss because of their past choices. When men and women from our past come to us with remorse for their actions, we will sometimes fail to give them a second chance even though they are filled with grief and remorse for their actions. They come bearing the rotten fruit of their actions, wanting to return it but we look at them and say, “That is your responsibility.”
In the neighborhood I work in there is a man who is regarded as dangerous. His story is not without complication. He has a history of opiate abuse, thievery, hurting others, and by all accounts people are told that when they see him walking down the street they need to not just turn around, but cross the street to get out of his path.
“Just. Stay. Out. Of. His. Way.”
One day he caught me off guard and he ended up right in front of me as I was on a walk during lunch. He didn’t ask for money or tried to harm me, but he looked at me with tears in his eyes holding a half-eaten hamburger. His hands were dirty, his face was tired, his legs quivering with exhaustion he opened his mouth and began to speak to me:
“I am trying. I have made some mistakes in my life. I have tattoos on my face, I have stolen things, I have used drugs, and I am doing everything I can to turn my life around, but no one wants to help me anymore. What do I do?”
This is Judas, and I would venture we all know one. They are in our families, they live next door, perhaps even they are old friends. They come to us, take advantage of our kindness, we help them, and then they end up back where they always do. Right? Sounds like a normal story.
But the fact of the manner is that this Judas in my neighborhood goes by some other names as well: thug, addict, junkie, thief. This man remains what others call him, I wonder how it would change if we shifted our approach to such men and women. What if offered a new name: Son, Daughter, or Child of the Divine?
But the other names are easier, huh? They place the blame on the individual instead of recounting the responsibility we all have to our neighbor, but we often neglect the calling to care for the one in prison, and dare I say in rehab or in reentry.
How we view Judas in the story plays a role in how we view those who seek forgiveness and penance for their past actions, but we refuse to give them a second look or chance. I see a man who hanged himself because he did not see a future worth living for. When he went into the temple, the place for forgiveness of sins, he was told by the leaders he needed to take responsibility. He was not offered forgiveness and absolution. He was told to face the consequences. So Judas did.
Judas hanged himself.