Surprising no one, I’ve been a huge Lady Gaga fan since she burst onto the national scene in 2008. I’ve long admired her for the way she infuses what might otherwise appear to be meaningless pop/dance music with a deep commitment to art and meaning.
I was in seminary when she released her single Judas. The song caused quite a stir on campus: here was an international superstar singing about how much she loves and identifies with Judas, the betrayer. It’s hard for me to enter Holy Week without the relentless beat of Judas running through my head.
The Gospel of Mark provides a day-by-day breakdown of the events in Holy Week: On Sunday, Jesus and his followers entered Jerusalem with great enthusiasm, their shouts of “Hosanna” echoing through the streets. On Monday, Jesus drove the moneychangers from the Temple. On Tuesday, he taught his followers and debated with religious authorities in the Temple. But Wednesday, everything has started to shift. The authorities, we are told, have had enough.
Wednesday in Holy Week, often called Spy Wednesday, is the day the Church remembers Judas’s betrayal of Jesus. On Wednesday, Mark tells us, an unnamed woman anointed Jesus with a bottle of exceedingly costly oil. When Judas scolds the woman for her extravagance, Jesus rebukes him. “She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for its burial” (Mark 14:8-9). This woman, it seems, is the only one who understood what Jesus meant when he foretold his death and resurrection. Judas then runs to the Temple authorities and agrees to pass them information about Jesus’ whereabouts in exchange for money.
It’s easy for us to condemn Judas. We’re quick to paint him as the “bad guy” in the story, forgetting that everyone is complicit in Jesus’ death. The unnamed woman in Mark’s gospel is the only one of Jesus’ followers who appears to have understood what he’d been telling them all along.
I can’t help but wonder if perhaps we’re so quick to condemn Judas because we’re afraid of seeing Judas in ourselves. None of us wants to face the parts of ourselves steeped in doubt, greed, fear, and remorse. It’s uncomfortable to try and come to terms with the fact that we all have the capacity for evil.
But we forget that Judas was one of the Twelve. Judas was chosen and loved by Jesus – the same Jesus who knew he would be handed over to suffering and death. The God we meet in Jesus is a God of grace and mercy – who brings life out of death and joy out of suffering. Judas, like us, had the capacity for great good and great evil. Judas, like us, was seen and loved and called by God.
Over the next few days, we will celebrate and remember Jesus’ last days. On Thursday we’ll gather in the upper room to wash one another’s feet and share the bread and wine of Jesus’ Body and Blood. On Friday we’ll stand at the foot of the cross. On Saturday, we’ll wait in the darkness of the Tomb.
And so today, when last Sunday’s palms have turned dry and brittle and we begin to turn towards the upper room, we need to ask ourselves: which part will we play in this story?