I watched the movie, Mary Madeline last week. In this film Judas is portrayed in a very different light. His motivation for betraying Jesus is not greed, but an inability to understand just what Jesus’ ministry on this earth is. Judas is all about the imminent revolution in this film’s interpretation. When Jesus enters Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, Judas expects the people to rise up, confront and defeat the Roman occupiers. But the people are raising palm branches, singing alleluias! They are not throwing stones; they have not pounded their plows into swords and spears. Heaven has not opened to the revenging angels who are to lead the rebellion!
Judas is totally bewildered by this. He ask Mary in his confusion, where are the legions of God’s army that are supposed to arrive to restore the Kingdom? This is the Messiah, right? Over the next few days, Judas comes to the conclusion, if Jesus is betrayed, given over to the authorities, jailed and maybe tortured, then these actions will be enough for Jesus to trigger the armies of God; to bring on the rebellion.
The eminent theologian, Walter Brueggemann, would say that this Judas suffers from “royal consciousness.” A delusion many of us even in modern eras suffer from. This is the belief that “the king-temple-royal city construct can be the guarantor of both social and cosmic order, and that this human construct protects persons and communities from the dangers of anarchy. “Royal consciousness” is what the Romans called, in their official propaganda, Pax Romana. Judas would replace the human construct of a Roman empire for the construct of a Jewish one. Under a Jewish king and within a Jewish empire, the people would be free.
In the last episode of the Game of Thrones, all the survivors are sitting around talking about what to do next. The resident scholar, Sam Tarley, proposes a democracy — “Let the people choose the king,” he suggests enthusiastically. The others turn to him with unconcealed disbelief and derision. “Should I let my pigs have a say as well?” One of them snarls. None of them can conceive of a world that they have not experienced. Now that they have destroyed the world they all understood and knew, they must begin again. They have the freedom to change; to be something they have never been before, but in the end they can only replicate the world they know.
Let me move now to the room where Jesus’ followers have gathered after his crucifixion and resurrection. Can you see these defeated people, whose dreams of the restoration of the kingdom of Israel lay shattered at their feet. Can you feel their despair, their anguish, their fear? It’s palatable; it hangs in the air; it eats at their souls. Roman peace is wielded, not through love of neighbor as Jesus taught, but is maintained through oppression, corruption and violence. The followers of Jesus are waiting for their time on the cross.
This moment of anguish is best expressed by a poet/songwriter of our modern age. [“It Seemed The Better Way,” Book of Longing, Leonard Cohen]
It seemed the better way
When first I heard him speak
But now it’s much too late
To turn the other cheek
It sounded like the truth
It seemed the better way
You’d have to be a fool
To choose the meek today
I wonder what it was
I wonder what it meant
He seemed to touch on love
But then he touched on death
Better hold my tongue
Better learn my place
Lift my glass of blood
Try to say the Grace
The mouths of Jesus’ followers are dry with the dread of their future; their thirst unquenched by the thoughts of blood they likely will taste. They are traumatized by the death of their Messiah. Not one remembers his last words to them.
All the Gospels record that Jesus appears to the disciples over and over after his resurrection, however, this does not propel them to action. Jesus reassures them over and over that when he finally leaves, the Father will send another to be with them. The Spirit of Truth will come to guide them and be with them. This counselor will guide them as Jesus has guided them. According to Luke, Jesus has told them to stay in Jerusalem until “the power from on high is given to them.” They are keeping a low profile and awaiting further developments.
In the Acts of the Apostles, Luke tells us that by Pentecost, also know as the Feast of Weeks in the Jewish calendar, the remnants of the flock are gathered in Jerusalem. When the festival day arrives they are all in one room.
“Suddenly they heard what sounded like a violent, rushing wind from heaven; the noise filled the entire house in which they were sitting. Something appeared to them that seemed like tongues of fire; these separated and came to rest on the head of each one.”
The breath of God; the fire of Divine presence; the sounds of creation’s birth. The presence of wind that moved across the waters of chaos at the birth of creation — call this what you will. The Spirit of life-creating love fills the house and those present.
These scared, helpless people are transformed, changed forever. They are no longer who they were; they are baptized into the vision of a new creation. The Spirit is within them, just as Jesus promised. They are one with God, one with Truth, one with Wisdom; one with Christ.
I could spend the rest of my life, right here in this moment. Forever trying to capture in my imagination this transformative moment. To dwell on the mystery of what happened that day to these ordinary people. I desire to feel that in my own bones.
But it is after this moment, in the reality of human time and human place, that the miraculous actually happened. The fog of empire-consciousness that mislead Judas is lifted. The recognition that the social constructs humans create can never be without violence, greed, anxiety, corruption and desperate need. The followers of the Way see clearly God’s intentions, God’s vision for God’s creation. There is no kingdom, no nation, no human-designed authority in God’s world. It is a community where love is the foundation; and loving relationships are the ties that bind.
This is the good news of the new creation that Peter and the others announce in the public squares of Jerusalem. The people hearing them think they may be drunk. And they seem drunk; drunk with the excitement of seeing and believing in the possibilities of God’s creation. The Spirit has given them the ability to be understood in all the languages of the known world. God speaks to each of us in our own heart language. This world can be different, the disciples proclaim! If we follow the commandments of God and live out God’s vision, this world will be different.
Our psalm for today sums up that vision succinctly. “Send your breath,” the psalmist says, “and fresh life begins.” Take away your breath and all becomes primordial dust. The psalm presents an image of God as a verb by whose very breath creation continues to birth anew. Paul tells us because we are the adopted children of God, we are part of God’s eternal dance of creation. In our baptism we are joined to God through the redemptive sacrifice of Jesus and the continuing presence of the Spirit. We need no human constructions to live into our inheritance — no temples, nor no nations. We are the physical manifestation of God’s love. We are part of God’s breath in God’s creation. To love God and our neighbors with all our hearts and souls is live into and bring about the creation God desires.
When will we take up the challenge of our baptism and leave behind our belief in the human constructs in which we daily live and breath? We can give up our lives within our own empire. We can live into and co-create God’s future!