1 Corinthians 6:1-11; Luke 6:12-19
What images cross your mind when you hear the name Judas? Over the centuries, the name Judas has become synonymous with a person who seems to be your friend but eventually turns on you; who betrays you in some way. The first goat, the one that leads the others inside a slaughterhouse, is nicknamed “the Judas goat.” I have even heard that, at least at one time, it was illegal to name a child Judas in Germany.
Yet, as the gospel today reminds us, Jesus selected Judas as one of the Twelve. People have wondered about this throughout the centuries. Why would Jesus do this?
Although we cannot know what was in the mind of Christ, it does help to pay particular attention to the words used in the gospel. Luke says that Judas became a traitor, implying that he didn’t start out that way. At some point during his time with Jesus, the heart of Judas changed. John the Evangelist says that the breaking point came when Jesus revealed himself as the true Bread whose Body and Blood must be consumed in order to gain eternal life. As the disciples of Jesus begin to desert him, John subtly brings up Judas, saying that Jesus knew from the beginning the ones who would not believe and the one who would betray him (John 6:64).
However the change within Judas occurred and whatever the reason for his betrayal of our Lord, the real issue for us concerns how we ourselves respond to the challenge of following Christ as his disciples. In what way is my own name Judas? What is the teaching of Christ that we find particularly hard to accept? If it isn’t the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, maybe it’s his command that we love our enemies, his teaching that we must be servants of all, his teaching through St. Paul that we simply put up with injustice or let ourselves be cheated (1 Corinthians 6:7), or any one of a dozen other commands he left us that run counter to our fallen human nature.
The tragedy of Judas runs deep, for Judas is not just the name of a historical man whose betrayal put Christ on the Cross. My name and the names of every sinner ever born are also on that crime; even Peter, who declared his undying fidelity to Christ and then three times denied that he even knew him. Moreover, the tragedy of Judas is not that he was unrepentant; to the contrary, Matthew wrote that Judas deeply regretted what he had done and returned the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders (Matthew 27:3). The real tragedy of Judas is that he allowed himself to give in to despair after his sin by declaring himself his own judge, jury, and executioner (Matthew 27:5).
This is exactly what St. Paul counseled against in 1st Corinthians when he reminded those who had once betrayed Christ through their own grievous sins: That is what some of you used to be; but now you have had yourselves washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God (1 Corinthians 6:11).
Our gospel closes with this beautiful image: Everyone in the crowd sought to touch him because power came forth from him and healed them all (Luke 6:19). In every sacrament, especially the Blessed Sacrament, Christ continues to allow us to touch him, to behold his power, that it may cleanse, heal, and sanctify all who hope in him. It is only through this power that we are no longer Judas; we are redeemed.