“...But the hearts of men are easily corrupted... And the ring of power has a will of its own.” (The Lord of the Rings) “Then Judas Iscariot, who was one of the twelve, went to the chief priests in order to betray him to them. When they heard it, they were greatly pleased, and promised to give him money. So he began to look for an opportunity to betray him.” (Mark 14)
It is an ancient story, told in many forms and various ways. A choice is given to the hero or villain to take the ring of coercion and power or choose the path of suffering and love. It was the choice offered to Jesus in the wilderness of temptation and offered to Judas in the Garden of Gethsemane. Which would you choose? If you were offered two rings from which to choose – one would give you power over others and the other would give you the power of love in your own heart – which would you choose? Which would get you what you really seek in life – enough power or enough love? Is power the path to love or love the path to power? It is not a choice given only to the few at the crossroads of history. It is a choice that lies at the heart of life and faith for each one of us.
Judas is easy to dismiss if we simply paint him up as a greedy charlatan of a disciple. But what if we start with a Judas who began his discipleship as sincere, wide-eyed and hopeful as the rest of the disciples? What if Judas was simply as complicated and mixed in motives as the other eleven? What then? How then did things go so terribly wrong? How did he get to that horrible place of betrayal, guilt and despair? Where was that fork in the road that led him there rather than to the less condemned place of sleepiness, denial and absence which fell to the other disciples?
Perhaps Judas can point us to this: What in your life is so close to your heart that you would allow the ends to justify the means? For what noble end would you sleep with the enemy? What situation would move you to trade in the ways of trust, kindness, gentleness and love for the tools of coercion and power in order to accomplish the ends you seek? What marks the end of your patience, the limits of loving-kindness and the beginning of your willingness to call out the army? Where that line is may be where we find our Judas. What do you love more than truth itself or desire more than love itself? Where in in your life is your fear of loss greater than your trust of God’s provision? These are the points where we will turn to our own ways of power rather than trust in God’s ways and wait for God’s time. These are the places where we are in danger of following the path of Judas. The voice of the ring and the Satan is alive and well in our day. It whispers to us:
We can by war accomplish peace. We can by coercion accomplish cooperation. We can by separation accomplish security. We can by ignorance accomplish clarity. We can by power accomplish love.
And so on it goes, down through the ages. Judas was neither the first nor the last. Walk humbly through the days of Holy Week, and be glad for the Easter to come.