Category Archives: Suffering

Learning from Judas…and Jesus…

Jesus answered them, “Did I not choose you twelve? Yet is not one of you a devil?” He was referring to Judas, son of Simon the Iscariot; it was he who would betray him, one of the Twelve.[1] [Jn 6:70-71] What must it have been like for Jesus to know throughout His entire ministry that Judas, one of the Twelve, would betray Him? What was it like when Jesus first met Judas, perhaps a young idealist who dreamed of the restoration of Israel to its former glory, of freedom from the tyranny of all the oppressors who had taken away their freedom, from Rome, the last and subtlest, whose iron fist in a velvet glove type of rule by proxy through pseudo-Jewish puppets who lulled the masses into somnambulant acquiescence or at least compliance. Jesus read his heart; He did not need anyone to testify about human nature. He himself understood it well. [Jn 2:25] He knew from the beginning that His attempt to enable Judas to see what type of Messiah He intended to be, what type of Savior His Father sent Him to be, was for the whole of humanity, not just Israel, would be futile. Though He would enter Jerusalem hailed as the Messiah, he came, humble, and riding on a donkey, [Zach 9:9] Judas wanted a conquering hero on a rampant, defiant, charging war horse.

But Jesus took a chance. He chose him as an Apostle anyway. He knew Judas was a bad apple, his misguided fanaticism might infect the others. But that was exactly what Jesus came to repair, to call His followers to resist, to draw them away from eating the serpent’s apple. And maybe, just maybe, but continually nurturing him, welcoming him, befriending him, keeping him close, maybe Judas might change.

Why did Jesus keep Him on? Why did He promote him to the inner circle? Why did He trust Judas with the group’s funds [Jn 13:29] even though Judas was known to be a thief, [Jn 12:6] at least by some? Perhaps because Jesus shared His Father’s unconditional Love and eternal optimism, the Father who loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life [Jn 3:16]…And His Son agreed to go! Maybe it was because His Father did not send…[Jesus] into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him. [Jn 3:17] And that world included Judas…and everybody who was like Judas. Though Judas might condemn himself by his choices, Jesus was there to save him, not condemn him.

At the Last Supper, Jesus made numerous attempts to get Judas to change his mind. Amen, amen, I say to you, one of you will betray me, [Jn 13:21] was certainly heard loud and clear by Judas as pointing to himself. Even when Judas tries to cover up his thoughts and plans and asks Jesus in turn: “Surely it is not I, Rabbi?” He answered, “You have said so.” [Mt 26:25] So Judas knows without a doubt that Jesus knows his plan. Even then, Jesus is implying, “Change your mind, repent, come back to Me,” to transform the subterfuge, Surely, it is not I into a declaration of fidelity.

Even when Peter speaks for all there is again a direct reference to Satan wanting to have his way with all the disciples. Simon, Simon, behold Satan has demanded to sift all of you like wheat, but I have prayed that your own faith may not fail; and once you have turned back, you must strengthen your brothers.[2][Lk 22:31-32] Was this the difference between Peter’s betrayal and Judas’?

In a direct way, Jesus prays for Judas. If prayer is dialogue, a conversation, between God and man, certainly Jesus, the God-Man had much self-initiated dialogue with Judas. So he dipped the morsel and [took it and] handed it to Judas, son of Simon the Iscariot.[Jn 13:26] How closely this action parodies Communion, Jesus giving a morsel of bread. But it is the horrible parody of Communion. This is not Jesus Body and Blood but an identification of a betrayer. Jesus reaches out, feeding Judas, symbolically urging him to come back from the brink, to eat His true body and drink His true blood and be saved, [Jn 6:53]. But after Judas took the morsel, he has not received Jesus, but Satan entered him.[Jn 13: 27] Evil and hatred, not goodness and love are the outcome.

But even in Jesus final words during the Last Supper to Judas, “What you are going to do, do quickly,” [Jn 13: 27] with Satan standing there at the door of choice, Jesus forces it to be left open. A “halfhearted commitment to the faith is nauseating to Christ;”[3] indeed, because you are lukewarm, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. [Rev 3:16] Judas still has a sliver of a chance, either ask Jesus for forgiveness and help or go and betray him. Here Jesus is saying, “Time is preciously short. Make a choice. Whatever you are going to do, do it now!”

So he took the morsel and left at once. And it was night. [Jn 13: 30] The word translated here as so can also be translated as “wherefore, consequently, accordingly, these things being so.”[4] In other words, the choice having been set before him, Judas chose to refuse the morsel of repentance and take the morsel of betrayal and leave.

Without commentary, we might think that Jesus did not grasp to its essence the enormity of the betrayal; on the contrary, he understands that non-existence would have been better. The Son of Man indeed goes, as it is written of him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed. It would be better for that man if he had never been born.[Mt 26:24] But, in spite of it all, He still loved him.

The real kicker in this scenario is that all the Apostles would have their faith shaken for it is written: ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be dispersed.” [Mt 26:31; Zech 13:7] And, when push comes to shove: all the disciples left him and fled.[Mt 26:56]

Even after Judas left, Jesus does not condemn him. When Judas betrayed him with a kiss, Jesus once more reaches out to him and calls him “Friend…” [Mt 26:50] Had he repented, if he had wept bitterly [Lk 22:62] like Peter, even then when it was too late to save Jesus from persecution and death, Jesus would have told Him: “Your sins are forgiven you.”[Lk 5:20; 7:48; Mt 9:2] He would have prayed to the Father: “Forgive…[him] for…[he knows] not what…[he is] doing.”[Lk 23:34] Jesus would even have told the others, just as He says to me, reminding us of our betrayal: Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone. [Jn 8:7] And finally, He would have turned to Judas and said: “Neither do I condemn you. Go, [and] from now on do not sin any more.” [Jn 8:11]

It is speculated that Judas was frustrated that Jesus had not become the conquering Messiah of his expectations, throwing off the yoke of Rome and returning Israel to its heyday. Judas thought that by having Jesus arrested, he would back Jesus into a corner and force him to finally show His might and power.

Judas was not alone in this hope. When Peter was ready to fight and drew his sword and struck the high priest’s servant, cutting off his ear. Then Jesus said to him, “Put your sword back into its sheath, for all who take the sword will perish by the sword. Do you think that I cannot call upon my Father and he will not provide me at this moment with more than twelve legions of angels? The way of unbelievable might and power is available to Jesus; if one angel of death can slaughter all the firstborn of Egypt in a single night, what overwhelming odds would 60,000 such heavenly warriors provide. All He has to do is ask. But as Jesus is keenly aware, then how would the scriptures be fulfilled which say that it must come to pass in this way?” How would His Father’s will be fulfilled; how would His perfect obedience make up for the disobedience of Adam, Eve and all of us, their offspring; how would infinite mercy and forgiveness show up vengeance and violence for the evil and distortion they truly are?

Even after the Resurrection, when Jesus had been with the Apostles for forty days and they were now convinced of His reality, the true implications of the crucifixion had not yet penetrated their understanding. They were back to their old way of thinking: Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel? [Acts 1:6] They hadn’t quite got the real, the true picture yet. Jesus, however, knows that they do not yet get it and that it will take the Advocate, the holy Spirit that the Father will send in my name—…[to] teach you everything and remind you of all that [I] told you. [Jn 14:26] Concerning their question He replies: It is not for you to know the times or seasons that the Father has established by his own authority. [Acts 1:7]

Judas’ plan is underway. He keeps tabs as it evolves. However, things don’t go the way his thought they would. The Sanhedrin condemns Jesus and Judas sees that Jesus does nothing, absolutely nothing. Worse than nothing, He makes things worse by spouting off about His Heavenly coming: The high priest said to him, “I order you to tell us under oath before the living God whether you are the Messiah, the Son of God.” Jesus said to him in reply, “You have said so. But I tell you: From now on you will see ‘the Son of Man seated at the right hand of the Power’ and ‘coming on the clouds of heaven.’” [Mt 26:63-64] That was the kicker; that put that last nail in the coffin. Then the high priest tore his robes and said, “He has blasphemed! What further need have we of witnesses? You have now heard the blasphemy; what is your opinion?” They said in reply, “He deserves to die!” [Mt 26:65-66]

This is not the way according to Judas that it was suppose to work out. Jesus was suppose to triumph, bursting forth as the military Messiah Judas craved, wielding a flaming sword, striking down the blind Sanhedrin, terrorizing and demolishing the imperious Romans.

Finally realizing that Jesus was not going to rise up a conquering hero, that he was not even going to defend himself, that he was a totally different type of Messiah, a innocent Messiah, a just Messiah, an obedient Messiah, Judas deeply regretted what he had done. He returned the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders, saying, “I have sinned in betraying innocent blood. They said, “What is that to us? Look to it yourself.” Flinging the money into the temple, he departed and went off [Mt 27:3-5a][5] But Pandora’s box could not be closed; history could not be rewritten. Judas’ betrayal scene was over, the Sanhedrin’s condemnation had begun. Try as he might, Judas could not put Satan’s evil genii back in the bottle. The fate of Jesus was out of his hands.

Unlike Peter, he did not weep for his sins, did not realize the love bond he had with Jesus was still there from Jesus side, did not accept the mercy of the Father even then, but he seems to have despaired of being forgiven and hanged himself.” [Mt 27:5b][6] I say “seems” because no one knows what demons, literal and figurative, drove him to do what he did. And no one on earth has plumed the depths of the love and mercy of God who is patient with…[us] , not wishing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance. [2Pet 3:9]

What can I learn from Judas? What can I learn from Jesus? First, I can learn to love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you. [Mt 5:44] Jesus was serious about this with Judas as with the chief priests with the scribes and elders who mocked him [Mt 27:41] on the cross, I must echo Jesus plea: Father, forgive them, they know not what they do. [Lk 23: 34] If I really want to follow Jesus, if I am totally committed to patterning my life after His, if I am given the strength and the courage to pick up my cross day after day after day, then I have to reach out in love to the Judases in my life, not just those who are overtly hostile to me, but to those who are betrayers among my friends and family, then I can and must do this. Then, like Jesus, I need to continually offer love and forgiveness, even though the traitor be my other self, my comrade and friend, you, whose company I enjoyed, at whose side I walked in the house of God. [Ps 55:14-15] Only then will I be a child of my heavenly Father, for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust. [Mt 5:45]

Second, when I face the depths of despair like Judas, no matter what I have done, no matter what evil I have committed, Jesus is always there, reaching out, giving me another chance to grab onto Him, to accept His love, to recognize Him as the only one who can restore me to sanity, to look at Him and see the face of the mercy of God. I have the same choice as Judas, falling headlong [Acts 1:18] into despair and killing myself, spiritually if not physically, or looking up and crying out: “Lord, save me!” If I do, I know in my heart of hearts, that each and every time, without fail immediately Jesus [will stretch] out his hand and catch me. [Mt 14:30b-31a] Amen. Alleluia!!!


[1] Scripture texts in this work are taken from the New American Bible, revised edition © 2010, 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington, D.C. and are used by permission of the copyright owner. All Rights Reserved. No part of the New American Bible may be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the copyright owner.

[2] Robert J. Karris, OFM, commented on this passage in TNJBC, p. 716: “31: Satan…Luke contrasts the effects of Satan’s attacks have on Judas and Peter. Jesus’ efficacious prayer saves Peter from the fate of Judas (see Acts 1:15-19). you all: The Greek here is pl. whereas in v 32 it is sg. Peter is representative of Satan’s sifting (see Amos 9:9) of all. 32. The implicit Christology is deep, and the church is consoled that its Lord can save it too from the power of Satan. turned back, converted: The Gk espitrepsas does not mean locomotion, but moral conversion (see 17:4; Acts 3:19; 9:35; etc.). your fellow Christians As Acts 15:23,32, show, this is the translation of aldelphous, I lit., “brethren.” Examples of Peter’s strengthening of the church can readily be seen in Acts 1-11,15.

[3] NABRE note on Rev. 3:15-16.

[4] Lexicon :: Strong’s G3767 – oun; Blue Letter Bible, http://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/ lexicon/lexicon.cfm?Strongs=G3767

[5] According to Benedict Vivlano, O.P., commentator on Matthew in TNJBC, the story about Judas’ death “probably began as an etiological legend to explain how the potter’s field came to be called ‘the field of blood.’” P. 671.

[6] According to Benedict Vivlano, O.P., commentator on Matthew in TNJBC, the story about Judas’ death “probably began as an etiological legend to explain how the potter’s field came to be called ‘the field of blood.’” P. 671.

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“But what can I do?” : Subversive Tactics for a Committed Christian

“But what can I do? I’m just one insignificant person.” When stacked up against “everybody does it,” “they can’t all be wrong,” “majority rules,” “you have to go along with the crowd,” “you can’t fight city hall,” “Corporations are people too!”, “this is an international problem,” etc., etc., etc., this flimsy excuse may seem to be a logical conclusion, a rational course of action. “It just makes common sense.”

Or does it? Just because bad guys carry guns and we can all carry guns, we should do so? Jesus said: Put your sword back into its sheath, for all who take the sword will perish by the sword.[1] [Mt 26:52] Just because abortion is possible, the Supreme Court of our land has declared it legal, and many, if not most women, line up behind the battle cry: “Freedom of Choice,” should I suck it up and follow them. What about the “Freedom of Choice” of the unborn child? He/she did not have any say in being conceived. Shouldn’t she/he have a say in whether to live or die? And where is God in this picture? Isn’t He the one who breathed life into the child? Don’t I think that He has a major stake in whether His daughter or son lives or dies?

But I digress. The point is that I have a judgment to make whether the crowd around me is right or wrong, whether I choose to adhere by the moral or immoral way.

But even if I condemn the evil in the world, I still am faced with the same question: “What can I do?” Little, insignificant, ineffectual me? These are monoliths against which I am pitted. This isn’t just David and Goliath, this is Frodo alone against Sauron, the Necromancer, the Dark Lord, the avatar of Evil, plus all his minions. The Enemy indeed controls all this power and…glory; for it has been handed over to…[him], and…[he] may give it to whomever he wishes. [Lk 4:6]

But if we all cop out, if we all buckle to peer pressure, we are doomed not only to hell in eternity, but to hell on earth.

I may not be able to do much. But God needs the little I can do. God needs my hands, my heart, my feet to carry Him to those places where people have shut Him out. I am a Trojan Horse carrying the salvation of the world inside me, the world which laughs, ridicules and derides even the belief in God. I am Frodo already in Mordor, pretending to be an Orc, carrying the ring to destroy it in the Mountain of Doom.

Jesus is poised, ready to make Himself known through me. In the most unlikely spots. At the most unlikely times. In the most unlikely company. That’s where He needs to be. That’s where He is needed most. That’s where He cannot come unless invited. And He definitely wasn’t invited…but I was. He slips in under their radar in me.

Be a double agent for God. He guarantees the Father will be with you every step of the way; I do not ask that you take them out of the world but that you keep them from the evil one. [Jn 17:15] Instead of a license to kill, I have a license to preach Life everlasting. Instead of a Walther PPK, I carry a much more effective weapon, one that ultimately brought down empires and conquers even death, the cross.

Subversive tactics. You bet: Instead of hating the enemy, I bewilder them, confuse them, frustrate them by loving them. This is totally unexpected. Guns blazing, that they can handle. Scorn and defiance, that they are use to. Anger and violence, no problem. But love, that doesn’t fit, that’s not fair, that isn’t in The Art of War, that throws them for a loop and stokes their ire. But, instead of revenge, I offer forgiveness. That’s really non-violent. That’s the ultimate peaceful protest.

The nice thing about these weapons of mass salvation is that they cannot be stopped. I can be stopped. My body can be killed, but that just makes God more effective. My witness, my martyrdom will sow the seeds of saints.

Another tactic in our Spiritual Manual is Pebble Pushing. Huge avalanches can be started by as little as a single dislodged pebble striking a couple of others on its way down the hill. Pretty soon the whole side of the mountain comes cascading down, huge boulders crashing into one another and carrying everything in their path with them.

I don’t have to do a lot. I don’t have to be Hercules fighting Alkyoneus and the Giants. I can start with one thought, one word, one smile, send one random act of kindness cascading down the hill of life. You never know what might become of that one gesture, who might be its recipient…the next Mother Teresa, the next Gandhi, the next Desmond Tutu. Or better, it might have been a lost soul who suddenly found hope, saw goodness, felt love. It may have started someone on the way back from alcoholism, addiction, despair. It may have challenged a tepid Christian to look at himself and wonder why he couldn’t be like you, like Jesus. These are the pebbles at the top of our mountain.   Push a pebble today. Start an avalanche for God.

So Ite, Missa est. Go, our Offering has been accepted, our Thanksgiving had been made, we have eaten Jesus and drunk His Blood, our strength has been restored to full power. Jesus marches forth in me, hidden, ready, always ready to spring forth and catch the other unawares. Have I practiced my Spiritual Tai-Chi today?

[1] Scripture texts in this work are taken from the New American Bible, revised edition © 2010, 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington, D.C. and are used by permission of the copyright owner. All Rights Reserved. No part of the New American Bible may be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the copyright owner.

ON THE CHRISTIAN MEANING OF HUMAN SUFFERING by John Paul II

John Paul II’s insights into suffering are magnificent. Truly, they give us a better understanding of suffering: “not of course completely (for this we would have to penetrate the divine-human mystery of the subject), but at least they help us to understand that difference (and at the same time the similarity) which exists between every possible form of human suffering and the suffering of the God-man.” [SD, 18]

  • That Jesus, out of love for each one of us, took on perfect obedience to the Father, took on all our disobediences, becoming sin [2Cor 5:21], and wrapped them up and forgave/gave-for us perfect obedience to the Father.
  • In doing so, He simultaneously took on all our suffering, not only our “temporal suffering, any kind of suffering, but the definitive suffering: the loss of eternal life, being rejected by God, damnation,” [SD, 14] and united it to His, and thus, took on love for us and united it to His love of the Father; “in a certain sense he annihilates this evil in the spiritual space of the relationship between God and humanity, and fills this space with good.” [SD, 17]
  • “Christ descends, in a first phase, to the ultimate limits of human weakness and impotence: indeed, he dies nailed to the Cross. But if at the same time in this weakness there is accomplished his lifting up, confirmed by the power of the Resurrection, then this means that the weaknesses of all human sufferings are capable of being infused with the same power of God manifested in Christ’s Cross.” [SD, 23]
  • “Suffering as it were contains a special call to the virtue which man must exercise on his own part. And this is the virtue of perseverance in bearing whatever disturbs and causes harm. In doing this, the individual unleashes hope, which maintains in him the conviction that suffering will not get the better of him, that it will not deprive him of his dignity as a human being, a dignity linked to awareness of the meaning of life.” [SD, 23]
  • “The sufferings of Christ created the good of the world’s redemption. This good in itself is inexhaustible and infinite. No man can add anything to it. But at the same time, in the mystery of the Church as his Body, Christ has in a sense opened his own redemptive suffering to all human suffering. In so far as man becomes a sharer in Christ’s sufferings—in any part of the world and at any time in history—to that extent he in his own way completes the suffering through which Christ accomplished the Redemption of the world…. Christ opened himself from the beginning to every human suffering and constantly does so. Yes, it seems to be part of the very essence of Christ’s redemptive suffering that this suffering requires to be unceasingly completed.” [SD, 24]
  • “When this body is gravely ill, totally incapacitated, and the person is almost incapable of living and acting, all the more do interior maturity and spiritual greatness become evident, constituting a touching lesson to those who are healthy and normal.” [SD, 26]
  • “But in general it can be said that almost always the individual enters suffering with a typically human protest and with the question “why”. He asks the meaning of his suffering and seeks an answer to this question on the human level. Certainly he often puts this question to God, and to Christ. Furthermore, he cannot help noticing that the one to whom he puts the question is himself suffering and wishes to answer him from the Cross, from the heart of his own suffering. Nevertheless, it often takes time, even a long time, for this answer to begin to be interiorly perceived. For Christ does not answer directly and he does not answer in the abstract this human questioning about the meaning of suffering. Man hears Christ’s saving answer as he himself gradually becomes a sharer in the sufferings of Christ…. For it is above all a call. It is a vocation. Christ does not explain in the abstract the reasons for suffering, but before all else he says: “Follow me!”. Come! Take part through your suffering in this work of saving the world, a salvation achieved through my suffering! Through my Cross. Gradually, as the individual takes up his cross, spiritually uniting himself to the Cross of Christ, the salvific meaning of suffering is revealed before him.” [SD, 26]
  • “A source of joy is found in the overcoming of the sense of the uselessness of suffering, a feeling that is sometimes very strongly rooted in human suffering. This feeling not only consumes the person interiorly, but seems to make him a burden to others. The person feels condemned to receive help and assistance from others, and at the same time seems useless to himself. The discovery of the salvific meaning of suffering in union with Christ transforms this depressing feeling. Faith in sharing in the suffering of Christ brings with it the interior certainty that the suffering person “completes what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions”; the certainty that in the spiritual dimension of the work of Redemption he is serving, like Christ, the salvation of his brothers and sisters. Therefore he is carrying out an irreplaceable service.” [SD, 27]
  • “In the messianic program of Christ, which is at the same time the program of the Kingdom of God, suffering is present in the world in order to release love, in order to give birth to works of love towards neighbor, in order to transform the whole of human civilization into a ‘civilization of love’… At one and the same time Christ has taught man to do good by his suffering and to do good to those who suffer. In this double aspect he has completely revealed the meaning of suffering.” [SD, 30]

I commend to your reading the entire Apostolic Letter: http://w2.vatican.va/content/john-paul-ii/en/apost_letters/1984/documents/hf_jp-ii_apl_11021984_salvifici-doloris.html