There’s a fine line between patriot and Judas Iscariot.
On this the 235th birthday of our nation, I’m thinking about the difference between a true patriot and a betrayer. There’s not much between the two.
I’m reflecting on the gospel story, which we need to remember was also a story about a nation. Or more specifically, it was also a story about the hopes of a nation. Two thousand years removed, it’s easy to forget that the gospel story was not about how people could finally get to heaven why they died. Rather, it was the culmination of all Israel’s national hopes, held for hundreds of years.
I’ve mentioned it on this blog before, that among the hopes that 1st century Jews held was the belief that their God would commission someone to free the nation from Roman jurisdiction and restore Israel as a sovereign, self-governed nation. Jews of Jesus’ day were still looking for the Lord’s promise to Abraham, to bless his descendants, still looking for the fulfillment of Yahweh’s word to David, to retain an heir on the throne of Israel and, eventually, the world. These were nothing like what we might call “spiritual” hopes; these were political dreams.
It cannot be delved into here, but suffice it to say that everything Jesus said and did in the gospels could be read as clues that what he was saying and doing would lead the nation into the culmination of those hopes. Many of the people around Jesus recognized, rightly, that he was the long-awaited hero, come to redeem Israel. This explains the great crowds, the desire to make him king, the shouts of Hosanna! as he entered Jerusalem.
Few, however, expected this hero to accomplish his task in the way that Jesus did.
Once in Jerusalem, Jesus spoke out and acted against the Temple and against the established priests. He was blatantly condemning the highest symbol of Israel’s connection with Yahweh and the people charged with keeping it. Pointing to the Temple, one could imagine Jesus thinking that this great structure was actually prohibiting the Jews from being the people God intended them to be. It would be as if someone entered the White House or the Capitol and said, more than just seats of corruption, these are places that are anti-American and must be torn down in order to save true America.
It’s difficult to know exactly what Judas Iscariot must have thought of all this. All indications from scripture are that Judas wasn’t the most honest person to begin with. I’m sure, though, that he must have harbored some nationalistic pride in Israel. After all, one doesn’t join the inner circle of a potential messiah without believing something about what he might do for the nation.
So I wonder: What did Judas think of all that was happening that last week before the betrayal? Marching into Jerusalem to shouts of Hosanna!, did he think, At last, Rome will get her comeuppance! This is what we signed on for! And then, what passed through his mind as Jesus then spoke against the Temple and fought, not against the centurions based in the city, but against the scribes and the Pharisees and the priests? Judas might have thought to himself, This guy’s not a real Jew; he despises the Temple and speaks out against our leaders! He’s a traitor to all we hold dear as a people!
And so there are two people, Jesus and Judas, each doing what he believed right for the nation of Israel. Yet only one turns out to lead the nation into its God-given destiny to serve as a blessing to the world. What’s the difference? It’s not much more than understanding where the Lord is truly taking the nation and getting behind it. Let’s do the same for our country. Happy fourth!