Monday, August 24, 2020

Hopeful Thinking - Saturday, August 29, 2020 - “Don’t Look a Gift Judas in the Mouth”

What is it about villains? Why are we so attracted to them? We know there are lots of actors who love to play villains. Writers love to intricately craft their darker characters, while most of their heroes are only two-dimensional. What is the origin of our relationship with villains? Why are there those whom we love to hate?

Many psychologists believe that we are attracted to villains because they represent our desire for freedom and lack of authority. But those ideas go against other notions of psychology which claim that while we often resent authority, we actually rely on it every day for our continuing existence. We have a love-hate relationship with authority, just like we do with our villains.

Some believe that villains are necessary in order to facilitate good heroes and heroines. As a literary tool, villains are what gives our heroes something to do. Our heroes would be nothing without them, they claim.

But I wonder if there is another idea at play. Because quite often the villains in our stories serve as catalysts for positive change and growth. We tell ourselves that type of story more often than any other. The formula is basic. Life exists as a status quo, which means to say that it functions but not necessarily all that well, only to have the apple cart upset by an outside source with a dastardly agenda, then to be successfully rallied against by a unified community. In the end, the defeated villain slinks off once its purpose has been served, leaving behind a greater unity in its wake.

It sounds kind of like a virus that leaves behind immunity after the healing. We might have preferred to never have been sick at all, but we know for a fact we are stronger because of it.

Are we at all attracted to the villains because we, on some level understand and perhaps even appreciate, the capacity of the change they are about to inspire in us? It’s OK to have a love-hate relationship with change, but we still ask for it nonetheless. Might we look at the catalyst differently?

An ancient document from the third century entitled “The Gospel of Judas“ was found in Egypt in the 1970’s but not protected or translated for another thirty years. The National Geographic Society published a translation in 2006.

For those of you who don’t know or remember, Judas was the infamous disciple who betrayed Jesus to the Sanhedrin priests, setting in motion the events that led to Jesus’s crucifixion. As the traditional Biblical version tells us, Judas betrayed Jesus for thirty pieces of silver and later hanged himself with guilt. Throughout the centuries the name Judas has been synonymous with betrayal, evil, and shame. But the ancient yet newly discovered Gospel of Judas tells the story a very different way.

For the record, I am not here to authenticate the Gospel of Judas. I am not going to attempt to validate the text as either truth or fiction. Like the Bible, it is whatever it is, provable or not. These are texts which we may look to for inspiration or food for thought. They are historical reports and open to interpretation as your own faith dictates.

I have chosen to discuss this text because it turns on its ear the long-held notion that Judas was evil for what he did. We can too easily dismiss him for being evil and then fail to see ourselves in him. The Gospel of Judas makes the suggestion that Judas was, in fact, Jesus’s favorite disciple and the only one with whom he shared the real truth about the purpose of life and humanity.

In the text, Jesus tells Judas about the creation of Adam. He tells him about the Cosmos, Chaos, the Underworld and those who rule it. He teaches him about the creation of Humanity and the destruction of the wicked. He also tells him of the crucifixion to come, and the greater necessity of it.

So when it came time, according to the story, Jesus instructed Judas to betray him, that he might bring about a greater purpose through his actions. He told Judas that he would be hated for his act of betrayal and that he too would suffer. But also that he would exceed all of them. Because Judas would sacrifice the physical body which clothed him.

Conversely, Matthew, Mark and Luke tell us that Judas was acting on his own selfish behalf in turning Jesus over to the authorities. They claim it to be an act of greed and resentment. They claim Satan had entered him. But the Gnostic Gospel of Judas tells a story about a favored disciple who reluctantly accepts the role of betrayer at his master’s request.

You may believe what you will about it. The point here is not the truth or lack of truth in the story. It’s the suggestion that things may not always be as clear cut as they seem.

So what might we do with this story? I lift it up for one reason: I ask it to examine for us the disparity between our understanding of hardship and the blessings of challenge and disappointment. Christian culture has reviled Judas for two thousand years while it has also acknowledged its belief that it was all part of a big cosmic plan. It contradicts itself in its choice to vilify Judas when according to all stories Judas is the one who put God’s plan in motion. With or without the Gospel of Judas, shouldn’t we wonder why we are vilifying him for being the catalyst to something that the Bible itself claims to be a good and necessary thing?

Like a lot of people, I am tempted to resent the deeper challenges of my life as well as those who supposedly “caused” them. I am tempted to be angry for what happened and to blame all those who made it happen.

We live in a society that sues first and asks questions later. We imprison people based on a sense of revenge and call it justice rather than make an assumption that things happen for reasons which need looking at. Sometimes those reasons are because we have let a problem get out of hand rather than deal with it. Everyone is still responsible for their own actions, but we push mental illness under the rug and then shout foul when someone acts out in that untreated, uncared for state. And there are other times it’s through no known fault of our own that bad things happen, but we then live in a space of anger, hostility, and vengeance. What will that get us?

If you are a person who believes in the Will of God, or that things happen for a reason, or that some good might very well come from difficulty if only we can choose to see it that way, then Judas the Betrayer should become something more.

What are the Judas moments in your life? Who are the Judases in your life? When something challenging happens to you, how do you react to it? Who or what is your authority? Is God your authority? Love? Justice? The Bible? Who or what tells you how to react to life’s challenges?

Because I have a suggestion about that. Let love be your authority. Hold your solutions to life challenges up to a yardstick of love and see how they measure up. Hold a challenge in your lap and love it and see what love tells you to do with it. Don’t punch it, don’t reject it, don’t strangle it; caress it, and see what happens.

Consider that life itself might be a trick question. Be open to the possibility that if life’s challenges have served you well, even if on only one single occasion, it might just happen again. When you despair and don’t know where to turn, give thanks for the solution that is already out there somewhere waiting for you to discover it like soulmate you just haven’t met yet. That solution is out there walking the earth, knowing the sun and the air, waiting to meet you.

Be open to thinking differently about the world and what has made it the way that it is. Be open to what it may yet become because of the challenges it has seen. And be open to what it might be that saves us all from ourselves.