Lent Reflection – Do I justify power, manipulation, even violence with my Christianity?

4 min. to read.

Today is the 25th day of Lent. I’m continuing through Brian Zahnd’s Lent devotional, The Unvarnished Jesus. I journal on the scripture he’s selected and his reflection, then I post daily (or near-daily) meditations that emerge.

The scripture today is Mark 14:43-46, Judas’ betrayal of Jesus.

In this short passage, we watch Judas enter the garden at the head of a band of armed men. He kisses Jesus, the planned sign, and the armed men surround and take Jesus into custody.

We all know Judas betrayed Judas. His name is synonymous with the backhanded betrayal of an insider. We know, too, that Jesus’ enemies paid Judas for turning Jesus over. It’s easy to assume his motivation was greed, but that’s likely not the whole story. Remember that after Jesus’ arrest and trial, Judas tried returning the money and then killed himself in remorse. I suspect that Judas wasn’t in it for the money. He was in it for revolution.

Zahnd points out that many scholars think the text indicates Judas was a Zealot. The Zealots were an extremist faction that advocated and engaged in violence to overthrow the Roman occupation. All the disciples expected Jesus to take power in Jerusalem and fulfill their Messianic hopes, but Judas was pragmatic. He knew an inciting incident would put pressure on Jesus to act. If Jesus was threatened, it might even rally the people.

It seems Judas believed that if he could just give Jesus the opportunity, Jesus would strike down his enemies, call together his base of supporters, and move to put his new government in place. There was a fire waiting to explode into life. Judas simply meant to strike the match.

Judas profoundly misjudged Jesus. He intended to provide Jesus an opportunity to act in power. He was willing to take the priests’ money if he could create the circumstance where Jesus would begin the violent overthrow of Jerusalem’s puppet leaders. Heck, they’d be paying for their own downfall! He didn’t intend for Jesus to be tortured and killed. When he saw that Jesus wasn’t going to fight back, Judas was undone with remorse.

I suspect that Judas loved Jesus, at least in a certain way. I think he was hopeful that Jesus was going to bring about a new order of things, right some wrongs, make things better for the downtrodden. I think he saw Jesus’ popularity, his ability to heal and provide food, his charismatic teaching, and instead of seeing these as signs of Jesus’ new way of life, he thought they were all assets for a more important project.

Judas’ vision, however, was unconverted. He had not understood Jesus’ way of love. He still believed the only way to get things done was power. A short, violent transition would clear the way for the founding of a new peaceful kingdom. Jesus and his followers would have to fight those who opposed them. Once justice was served to their wicked enemies, the new kingdom would be a peaceful one.

The betrayal wasn’t just of Jesus as a friend; it was also a betrayal of Jesus’ way. Hatred doesn’t evoke love. Vengeance cannot bring about forgiveness and reconciliation. Violence will never establish lasting peace.

As Jesus’ followers today, we face the grave temptation to follow in Judas’ steps. In so many ways, big and small, we are tempted to use Jesus to further our own ends. We think ourselves wise and pragmatic as we leverage the tools of power and even violence to establish Jesus’ kingdom on earth. We can come to believe that our party, our group, our church is right, and we are justified to push our goals forward at any cost.

We fall into Judas’ trap, not realizing that, for Jesus, the ends never justified the means. The means are the end in the process of becoming. Other-centered co-suffering love is the means. The end, the outcome, is God’s business alone.

Lent invites us to stop using Jesus as part of our own power play. This way is life.

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