A Traitor by Any Other Name...

What's the first thing that pops into your mind when you hear the name Judas? Traitor is probably one of them. Greedy, evil, selfish, back-stabber. Any of them would fit the Judas we've all been taught about in Christianity. But did you ever stop to think that maybe the words courageous, dedicated, devoted or self-sacrificing might more aptly apply? It may sound heretical to those who call themselves Christians, but let's think about it for a moment.

What is one of the greatest gifts we've been endowed with? Life, most certainly. And consciousness, yes. But both of these would really be meaningless if we did not also possess free will. What is life if we have no say in how we live it? If every thing we do is something we're predestined to do because it is God's decree? And what does it matter if we are aware of ourselves yet have no control over our actions and how they affect not only ourselves but others as well? The gift of free will allows us to make mistakes, learn from those mistakes and therefore grow in our awareness of ourselves and live a life that is full of happiness, joy and prosperity.

Now let's look at the foundations of the Christian faith. Jesus, the son of God, used his free will (he is after all man as well as God) to accept the "fate" that awaited him. He had many chances to walk away from his sacrifice— the temptation by the serpent in the desert, the inner battle he fought (and won) in the Garden of Gethsemane, even while hanging on the cross. He was taunted by the Roman guards, who said if was really God he could get down from the cross. Surely it took a lot of courage to resist that urge. To fight off the instinct man has for survival. But he understood that his death— as well as his life— would be a lesson to the billions of people who lived after him. So the man Jesus exercised his free will and died on the cross. His resurrection from the dead and ascension into heaven are the cornerstones of the Christian faith. But how did he come to be crucified?

Now we come to Judas. The story goes that for thirty silver pieces, Judas "betrayed" Jesus to the Romans. The "kiss of death" was the testimony Roman authorities needed to charge and convict Jesus of crimes that warranted his crucifixion. How does this make Judas courageous, dedicated, devoted or self-sacrificing? Try to imagine what might have happened if Judas had not "betrayed" Jesus. Had he gone on to live to a ripe old age and died of natural causes, where would that put Christianity today? Would anyone have noticed Jesus' ascension into heaven if he had died of old age? Would anyone consider his death a sacrifice or an atonement for the sins of humanity? If Judas had not "betrayed" Jesus, someone else would have had to do it, because without that "betrayal", the Romans had no grounds on which to condemn Jesus to death. Without the self-sacrifice that Jesus made by dying a death that was unwarranted, Christianity might never have gotten off the ground.

So the "betrayal" of Jesus was necessary. Jesus himself realized this, even telling Judas he would be the one to "betray" him. If the "betrayal" was predestined, without Judas' approval, Judas would be a pawn who could not be held responsible for his actions because he had no choice— it was preordained by God/Jesus. Yet God gave man free will. And Judas used that free will— as Jesus used his free will— to carry out the will of God. Essentially, Judas accepted the responsibility of "betraying" Jesus, knowing it would result in his death. Knowing it would result in his being stigmatized as a traitor.

It takes courage to do what is necessary when you know people will hate you for it.

It takes dedication to a cause to stand up in the face of overwhelming scorn and do what you know has to be done.

It takes devotion to hurt someone you love even though you know it's ultimately the best thing and it's what they themselves want.

It is self-sacrificing to allow the same billions who lived after Jesus— who love and worship him as Lord and savior— to hate you and condemn you as a traitor.

Yet without Judas, Christianity would not have the same start it had. And perhaps, had Judas used his free will to refuse his part in the drama we now call Christianity, people might now call a traitor a "Simon" or a "Peter" or a "Thomas" instead of a "Judas".

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