Kichijiro, the Judas Everyman
One of the main themes that stands out in the Gospel of John is the betrayal of Judas. Today we will explore Judas’ betrayal of Jesus and learn from it. Before we dive into the Scriptures, I would like to first tell you a story, Shusaku Endo’s novel Silence. It’s a novel based on the true history of 17th century Japan. At that time Japanese Christians had to endure severe persecution. In the story we meet Kichijiro. He and his family were found to be Christians, and they were ordered to trample on a fumie, an image of Christ. Kichijiro trampled; the rest of his family refused. He watched them die. Later he confessed to a priest and had conversion experience. But due to external pressure he denied God publically three more times throughout the story. He even sold out Father Rodrigues and received 300 pieces of silver, 10 times Judas’ price for the deed. Kichijiro cries out in despair, “I am weak! Where is the place for the weak man like me?” Although he keeps falling and is traumatized by his failure, he continually seeks forgiveness. As we hear this story, we are tempted to easily scorn Kichijiro. But in fact, Kichijiro is a kind of Christian-disciple Everyman. The author presents us with a moment for self-examination about our own relationship with Jesus.
The Love of Jesus for Judas
John 13 clearly tells us how much Jesus loved his disciples, including Judas Iscariot. It begins in this way: “Before the Passover celebration, Jesus knew that his hour had come to leave this world and return to his Father. He had loved his disciples during his ministry on earth, and now he loved them to the very end” (NLT). Jesus chose Judas Iscariot as one of his disciples. They had spent at least three years living together, working together. They had been through a lot together. In fact, Judas was the group’s treasurer, a trusted follower of Jesus, a close friend of Jesus.
But somewhere Judas made a wrong turn and pressed ahead; Jesus showed him the full extent of his love right to the end. In the Upper Room Jesus washed Judas’ feet. Think about it. He knew Judas was plotting to betray him. What was it like for Jesus to wash this man’s feet? What was it like for Judas? Even this footwashing didn’t change Judas’ heart. So after this, Jesus said the word in the way only Judas could understand, saying, “And you are clean, but not everyone of you” (11). He wanted to give Judas a chance to repent. “Abandon your way of life, your way of thinking. Come back to me now!” But he didn’t. So Jesus said for the second time by citing from Ps 41:9, David’ lament over a betrayal from his close friend, “He who ate my bread has lifted his heel against me!” (18). But Judas didn’t change his course. So now Jesus was troubled in his spirit and said for the third time in a more direct way, “Truly, truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me!” (21) “That’s the pain, Judas! You have been with me for three years. After all we’ve been through. After all I’ve done for you. After all the wonder you’ve experienced.” Judas kept pressing ahead.
Jesus then gave a piece of bread to Judas (26). Here it would be helpful to know Jewish tradition at the time of Jesus for our better understanding. Jews used a low three-sided U shape table, which was necessary for them to recline. The body was supported with the left arm (or elbow), the right hand was used for eating, and the feet were extended away from the table. If we read today’s scripture closely, we find that Judas was sitting to the left of Jesus (host), in the place designated for the most honored guest. At that time, it was common for the host to serve the honored guest a morsel from the table. Jesus was serving as a host, Judas, his honored guest, the piece of bread, the sacred elements of the last supper. This gesture of love and respect was the last thing Jesus could do for Judas. He didn’t humiliate Judas in the presence of the other disciples. Even after Judas went out, they didn’t know who the betrayer was. It was between Jesus and Judas. Jesus loved Judas to the end.
The Choice of Judas
It’s striking that Satan put it into Judas’ heart to betray Jesus. John 13:2 says, “During supper, when the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray him” (ESV). That’s how the enemy works in our lives. Satan puts his evil thoughts into our hearts. That’s why the Bible says, “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life” (Proverbs 4:23, NIV). For the same reason, Martin Luther said, “You cannot keep birds from flying over your head but you can keep them from building a nest in your hair.” In verse 2, although the devil had already put his evil thoughts into Judas’ heart, Judas was not yet the object of the devil’s work. But unfortunately, he chose to allow evil thoughts to come in and cherish them in his heart. He chose not to repent. He chose not to change his course. He was persistent. Then what happened? In verse 27 Satan entered into him. From that moment, Satan controlled Judas’ fate. And Jesus dispatched him to pursue the course he had set for himself. This is the judgment. The light has come into him. But Judas loved the darkness rather than the light. He hated the light and didn’t come to the light (John 3:19-20). Jesus is the light. He abounds in love and grace. But he withdraws his outstretched loving arms to hold us if we continue to reject his grace. Romans 1:28 says, “And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done (ESV). This is the judgment.
The Voyage of Life
As I was meditating on today’s passage over the past week, what came to mind was Thomas Cole’s four-painting series, The Voyage of Life. It is an allegory for the four stages of human life, filled with both warning and promise about what lies ahead for each of us as we journey through our lives. In the first painting of the series, Childhood, the young traveler launches out from a cave (birth) onto a placid stream. The sun is rising in the distance, and a guardian angel stands with in the little boat. In Youth, the second painting in the series, the youth holds the tiller and the angel watches from the shore. The boat is headed down the river toward a ghostly castle, representing his dreams and ambitions. The third painting, Manhood, reminds us of the troubles and travails of existence. The little boat is now entering menacing rapids, and the traveler is trying to navigate without its tiller. The sky is stormy, but the journey must go on. The angel has not forsaken him, though, still watching him from a distance. The traveler folds his hands in prayer. The final painting is Old Age. Our traveler has survived the trials of life and now draws near to the end of his journey: death. The guardian angel draws close to him and guides him to heaven.
“While You Have the Light”