I continue once again with my shameless promotion of Paulist Father James DiLuzio and his Luke Live performace, part 3, covering Luke chapters 17-24.
Over the last two days, the conversation we had (Father DiLuzio continually encouraged us to have a dialogue on the text, to reach deeper meanings) focused on two fairly notorious characters: Judas Iscariot, and Pontius Pilate. Now, in general terms, these two have been condemned since the inception of the Church. Judas, the betrayer, has classically been believed to be in Hell, and every week we recite in our creed: He was crucified under Pontius Pilate.
Yet there are some very intriguing elements that we uncover if we dig deeper, if we have a conversation with the Gospel and keep in mind the full picture. One of the most startling connections is the indentification of Judas and Pilate with ourselves.
Consider the case of Judas. He has ever proved an enigma to us. We know that he lost in faith in Jesus after the Bread of Life Discourse, that he was a thief, and that he ultimately betrayed his master for thirty pieces of silver. Yet we know that his betrayal was necessary, that it was foretold in Scriptures. Some people want to vindicate Judas, in that he was merely a tool in the great Plan of Salvation, and thus could not be culpable for his actions. Yet we know that his actions, though foretold, were of his own volition. Indeed, from Jesus we have such words as “woe to that man by whom [the Son of Man] is betrayed” and “it would be better for that man if he had never been born”, both of which indicate that Judas was fully guilty of betraying Jesus, and would suffer for doing so.
Other people (Dante comes directly to mind) have firmly believed that Judas suffers eternal torment in Hell. Jesus’ words carry a fair amount of weight in defense of this. How could it possibly be better for one never to have been born, if that one still manages to achieve salvation? Thus only eternal punishment could properly explain. But that’s not the full story, by any means. Throughout the Gospels, one of Jesus’ most consistent themes is forgiveness. His mission is to reconcile mankind with God. On the cross, dying, he still managed to say, “Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do.”
This message of forgiveness potentially offers hope that Judas did attain salvation, despite the darkness of his situation. But consider that even though he had lost faith, he was still at the table for the Last Supper, still received the Eucharist from Jesus’ hands. It is possible that God’s grace managed to touch Judas sufficiently. Certainly we know that Judas realized the magnitude of his sin in betraying Jesus–the grief and distress led him to commit suicide. Historically, suicide has been considered an unforgivable sin, but in recent times that view has changed. Indeed, we now stress that mortal sin not only consists of grave matter, but also of knowledge of the sinfulness of the action, and full consent. The state of mind a person is in when committing suicide has the great potential to lessen culpability. Moreover, we know not what happens in those moments between committing to suicide and actual death. Repentance can happen then, too. Keeping this in mind, it is fully possible that Judas fully repented of his sins. Certainly he felt immense remorse over his deeds, enough that it overwhelmed him and drove him to suicide. It can be hoped that he had sincere contrition in his heart, and was not fully culpable in the taking of his life.
However, the eternal destination of Judas is less important than how we treat him. The great temptation is to write him off as an evil man, responsible for Jesus’ death, and doomed to Hell. But is Judas responsible for Jesus’ death? What about the Sanhedrin, the chief priests and scribes and elders? Weren’t they the ones who demanded Jesus’ death? Aren’t they the ones to blame? This can keep going, but it very rarely reaches the most important conclusion, which is our own responsibility for Jesus’ death. We have to remember that Jesus died for all our sins. Every single one of them. Conversely, that means that with every sin we commit, we partake of the betrayal that put Jesus on the cross. In essence, when we sin, we crucify Jesus ourselves. Yet instead of acknowledging that, we prefer to pin Jesus’ death on Judas. Or if not him, then the Sanhedrin. For a long time during the Middle Ages, Jesus’ death was pinned on the Jews, and the Jews suffered greatly at Christian hands. Very rarely does it ever come to us that we’re just as guilty. We’re really rather blame a scapegoat, namely Judas. Yet at the moment of the betrayal, who do we identify more with: the betrayer or the betrayed? It is something to keep in mind.
Of course, we shouldn’t tear ourselves apart with self-loathing and castigation. Jesus came to forgive sins, if we are willing to repent of them. That is good news.
As we are with Judas in sins of commission, we find ourselves similarly relating with Pilate by sins of omission. Consider the situation. Pilate, who normally resides in Caeseria Maritimus, is forced to come and govern Jerusalem directly every Passover, because every Passover there are uprisings and rebellion and general turmoil. He’s become used that, and tries to maintain power and reputation by maintaining peace. When Jesus is brought before him, he’s utterly baffled because he can find no capital crime of which Jesus is guilty. He declares Jesus innocent and wants to release him. But the Sanhedren demands that Jesus be put to death. So Pilate sends Jesus off to Herod, hoping to avoid a confrontation. But Herod is unable to sentence Jesus, and Jesus is brought back before Pilate. So Pilate then offers to flog Jesus as a compromise, but the Sanhedrin still remains adamant. Finally, in order to keep peace, Pilate agrees to crucify Jesus.
(Some scholars believe that Pilate is shown as practically innocent of Jesus’ death so that the potential Roman converts don’t feel scapegoated. Instead of blaming Rome, the blame falls on the Jews, so there’s no hard feelings, right? Except now we’re back to the scapegoating again, but there’s a deeper point to be made here.)
Pilate epitomizes one of the great concerns of our time, and that is permitting a great evil to occur for the sake of avoiding confrontation. Regardless of how cruel or how virtuous a man Pilate really was, he was guilty of standing by and allowing an innocent man to be killed when he had the power to prevent such a thing from happening. And just as we are right there with Judas, betraying the Lord, when we sin, we are right there with Pilate whenever we stand by and permit evil triumph when we have the ability to intervene. It could be as simple as standing by and watching a bully beat up a hapless little kid, or it could be refusing to raises our voices against the great injustices in our society.
On a different note, it was interesting that the fourth installment of Luke Live, part 3, was particularly lacking in audience participation. I spoke with Father DiLuzio about it, and he thought a moment and agreed that it was fairly typical for the audience to say very little in regards to the crucifixion and resurrection. He contended that it was out of reverence for such a grave event, that we were silent and reflective because of that reverence. I expressed my thoughts, though, that maybe we’ve heard the story so often that it has, to a large extent, becomes just that–a story. We know the details, we’re familiar (and maybe even comfortable) with it, and thus maybe we feel there’s no much else to even think about, or dialogue about. But then, maybe I’m wrong about that. Who knows?
I reiterate that Luke Live was a wonderful experience, and I encourage people to hit up Father DiLuzio’s website and request him to come perform. It will be well worth it.