I like the term “Black Saturday” better than “Holy Saturday” for this reason: if Christianity is true, the most convincing evidence as I see it is that a small group of people in the first century witnessed something about a man named Jesus that convinced them that he was God and for whom they were willing to give their very lives. If I am to believe it, that is why. So for those people who were living the events of this weekend 2000 years ago, there was nothing about this day that felt holy. It was just black.
So on this black day I want to share a different perspective about one of the parts of the entire story that many would consider to be the blackest: the betrayal of Jesus by Judas. Peter Rollins has quickly become one of my favorite authors/philosphers, and in his recent work, Fidelity of Betrayal, he starts off with a different look at Judas.
He begins with the most traditional reading of the story that results in Judas often being considered evil incarnate but then quickly turns the tables in true Rollins fashion as he indicates that Christianity is in some manner indebted to Judas for its very existence. He suggests that Judas may in fact not be the real betrayer. On page 14 and continuing on to page 15: “For if, as an initial reading of the text would imply, the betrayal was deemed necessary for the rise of Christianity and the fulfillment of God’s will, then we are presented with the image of Judas as one who was in fact central to the outworking of a divinely ordained plan. With this in mind one might ask whether it was really Judas who was betrayed by Jesus rather than the other way around.”
He continues further down on page 15: “…if Jesus did know what Judas was capable of from early on, then the narrative compels us to ask why he called him to be a disciple in the first place. Or why Jesus did not endeavor to both warn him about his weakness for money and to ensure that he was never in a position to give in to such temptation. Surely, if someone knowingly offers a recovering alcoholic some wine, then that person is implicated in the consequences. The ultimate betrayal, according to this traditional reading, could thus be said to be the one perpetrated by Jesus against Judas, rather than the other way around.”
Rollins then suggests other ways to view the actions of Judas. Perhaps he was, as a zealot who desired a forceful military-style overthrow of power, just attempting to further along the confrontation between Jesus and the unjust chief priests and was not aware of what the consequences would be thus leading to his decision for suicide when it all fell apart. But yet again, Rollins makes an even more intriguing suggestion.
As John’s gospel makes clear, Jesus was aware early on of what Judas was going to do. Rollins asks the question of page 18: “What if Jesus knew at an early stage precisely because Jesus was going to ask him to do it?” He then leads us through an interpretation of details in Mark’s story of the woman spilling out expensive perfume on Jesus head which is coupled with Judas almost immediately leaving to go to the chief priests with his deal. Could it have all been planned by Jesus, the woman, and Judas to work that way? An interesting question, and maybe the fact that Jesus addresses Judas as “friend” after the kiss in the garden is a clue to a much deeper relationship than we have traditionally assigned.
Finally, on page 21: “Is it possible then that Jesus himself not only wanted Judas to betray him but actually demanded it? Is it possible that Jesus, as portrayed in the Gospel of Mark, possessed the insight that for his mission to expand and impact the whole world, this betrayal needed to take place? And is it then possible that this singular betrayal is one that actually testifies to a profound fidelity? It is with such a reading in mind that the philospher and cultural theorist Slavoj Zizek goes so far as to write that, while ‘in all other religions, God demands that His followers remain faithful to Him-only Christ asked his followers to betray Him in order to fulfil His mission'”.
Lest you fear that Rollins is just asking a bunch of ridiculous questions, he does have a method to his madness. The remainder of the book explores the idea that we must put “…our religion to death so that a religion without religion can spring forth.” Rollins is suggesting that this act of betrayal may actually be the highest act of fidelity.
A challenging read. And enlightening read. Appropriate for Black Saturday.