I volunteer in my Christian church each Sunday as a Gospel principles instructor for the children that are 8 years old. There are 3 boys and 3 girls in my little classroom.
A few months ago, I prepared a lesson about Jesus Christ and his 12 Apostles of the ancient church in 30 something AD.
As I prayed during the week prior to the lesson, I felt that the children would benefit by understanding that these 12 men that Jesus called were regular men. Regular meaning, that they had jobs, they had families, they weren't perfect. They simply had hearts to follow Jesus.
I did some research online (maybe 4-5 hours), and found several ancient history professors' works, as well as Biblical scholars works, and a few other sources I felt were reputable that aimed to uncover more about the original 12 Apostles lives and who they were.
It was a rather interesting experience to picture Peter as an outspoken, affluent fisherman in business with his brother, James (also a very zealous man, full of passion). Both providing for their family's at the seaside. Nothing crazy about that.
It was fun to learn that Thomas was a friend to Jesus' family for years. Was a good friend to Lazarus and Mary Magdelene- it became all the more clear to me why he would struggle to believe that Jesus was anything different than the peculiar boy he grew up next door to.
I loved learning that Andrew, who was a follower of John the Baptist, saw Jesus in the streets and immediately knew that He was the one John the Baptist had said would be coming soon. Andrew led Jesus to his older brother, John, who was a rather stoic and humble sort. The brothers were also in business together.
It was interesting to read about Phillip- and how the Savior approached his business stand in the streets and simply said, "Phillip" and Phillip knew instantly that it was his Savior, Jesus Christ and followed him and served him from that moment onward.
So many insights and fun facts that helped me to understand the scenes and motives and faith of the original 12 Apostles.
Then there was the information regarding Judas Iscariot.
As a child, I watched several Bible animated films. And every single one, portrayed Judas as a dark figure. A sneaky sort of man. A BAD man. A wrong doer. Someone equal to Satan.
And in my Sunday school classes all growing up, Judas was always someone we "didn't want to be like."
But what I learned in my research, really enlightened me to a knew and truly Christian understanding about this man.
Judas was born a Jew. He was actually born in Judea and raised in a strict Jewish family. He was an accountant by trade, and a good one at that. He knew the ins and outs of money trading for investment. His family, his friends, his people, did not believe that Jesus was the prophesied Messiah, and yet Judas could not deny the feeling of power from Jesus words and the excitement of being among the disciples that followed Him. When Jesus called Judas to the Apostleship, and asked that he be the treasurer of the group- accepting any offerings from the throng of followers and monies that the other 11 offered the Savior and keeping records of their transactions he thought it was a great opportunity. He would get to be part of an important circle and throng in the fame of Jesus of Nazareth. Yet..... he was still a Jew and money dealer. Think what that must have been like. Feeling the power of the teachings of Jesus, and yet everything he'd ever known or believed spoke against it. I knew the power of investing. He knew what pwoer and influence could do for his own welfare. We know that he took from the Lord's money box a few times for personal reasons. We know he questioned others purchases of expensive high quality items to gift to the Lord, wondering why if they believed in giving to the poor, why they'd spend so much on Jesus. He never seemed to have the conviction of the eternal nature of Jesus life. Nor did he actually PROVE the Lord's words and teachings by practicing them personally- he was a bystander when it came to the actual work of salvation for himself or those around him. Eventually he met secretly with the Jewish leaders and arranged for a large payment to point out Jesus in a crowd via a kiss on the cheek. I'd like to point out that Judas is often described as a "betrayer or traitor" of Jesus.
We also know that after Jesus was condemned to death and raised on the cross that Judas went back to the Jewish leaders and asked them to take back the payment and specified that it be used to build proper burial boxes and markers for the poor who lacked funds to do so. And not long after that, he committed suicide no doubt from deep depression from his choices he had no help to recover from.
The more I've thought about Judas, the more I realized that he and I are very similar.
And I've had the thought tickle my mind, that Judas' inclusion in the circle of the 12 has a deeper and more meaningful lesson to all of us than I'd been taught or have discovered in my own study as of yet.
Judas was born into a religious family.
So was I.
Judas family was strict to obey The Law.
So was mine.
Judas was educated and understood how the "World" works. Understanding business, money, and investing. He understood influence and power.
So do I.
Judas loved the feeling on inclusion as the fame of Jesus swept the land! He loved being part of the group and being part of a cause.
I've felt this way about a few things in my life as well.
Judas stood on the inside circle with Jesus as others thronged Jesus house, trying to get a glimpse. And yet, he struggled to understand his place there. He liked the inclusion, but lacked the conviction, the conversion, the change of heart, the Return that Jesus was teaching about.
I have felt this many times through my life as a Christian.
Feeling like I was part of something great- feeling like I was on the "inside" of something special and yet feeling out of place, not feeling like I was as convicted as those around me.
Judas used funds that weren't his to use.
This I can't say I've done exactly, but I done erroneous deeds in my life too.
Judas performed acts that were self-serving, at the expense of someone else.
Yes. I have done this as well.
Judas felt bad for his actions once the truth was understood, and tried to reconcile.
This I have done many times.
From my life experience with thousands of humans Judas Iscariot isn't so far different than most of the human race on their journey to finding truths. Is he?
Struggling against cultural and/or religious values instilled from birth to accept a new way of thinking and acting.
Struggling to see eternal perspectives when the things in the present seem to be the only things that matter.
Seeing others around us be vulnerable, like Thomas was, in saying out loud that we struggle to believe in things we cannot see with our human eyes.
Struggling to make sense of the purchases and wealth and also the lack of and use and misuse of things, of fellow humans around us. Even when we know it doesn't really matter to our life since we all have agency, we still want to understand so many WHY's around us. We LONG for the connection to other human beings and so strive to understand them and feel compatible.
Looking for opportunities to add value and be part of a group.
Often standing on the sidelines of something amazing, simply because we don't understand all the working pieces or the conviction of the cause- a lack of faith in it. Not always erroneous mind you. Sometimes we just don't really see the truth for ourselves to spend the time, emotional attachment, etc that others have for something. And thats ok.
Looking for reconciliation when we do find that we have erred.
Feeling bad for erroneous decisions we made under pressure, while in a rage, while desperate, or otherwise incapacitated and then longing for a chance to rewind life and get a second chance.
Judas wasn't so different.
And yet Jesus called him to be an Apostle. Jesus chose him to be in his counsel circle. Jesus LOVED Judas. Jesus proclaimed in his last breaths on the cross, "Father, forgive them. For they know not what they do."
Judas didn't have the conviction of Peter. Judas didn't understand all the teachings like Andrew. Judas didn't have the zealous faith of Matthew and James. Judas didn't have the quiet understanding and faith of John. Judas didn't have the spiritual gift of knowing the Savior as Phillip. Judas didn't have the courage to be vulnerable like Thomas and admit his lack of faith.
Judas didn't have the support of his family and in the end he took his own life, no doubt buried in his grief and confusion, not understanding the unconditional LOVE that Jesus offers. Not knowing that Jesus understands that we are HUMAN. Jesus understands that we HAVE to make mistakes to learn. Jesus knows that forgiveness, is simply understanding human nature. There is no need for revenge or offense when you understand that everyone's mistakes are simply there as part of the journey. Humans are limited in their own abilities.
Our Spirits however, are not limited in this world. We CAN find Jesus' words in bibles across the globe and feel our souls light up with fire and conviction even when our human minds cannot fully understand it. This is when we choose to follow Jesus with faith. This is when we choose to understand that all humans are here striving on the same journey. Trying to find truth. Trying to understand the need for opposition in all things to help us progress and learn and bring Joy into our lives. Finally learning that this experience is simply a time to discover that all that is good, all that is praiseworthy, all that brings love and light to us is of GOD. And as we continually choose those things, we will find JOY always.
I glory in the knowledge that I can always change and always strive for more joy in my life. That that choice is MINE. I glory in the hope that my limitations I feel are only Human, and that one day I will be free from them. I glory in the hope that my mistakes are covered by the great sacrifice of my Savior, Jesus Christ as he atoned for me thousands of years ago to satisfy the eternal law of Justice. He knew the law. No unclean thing can come back to God. But He also knew that if one who is clean, chooses to intercede for the law-breaker, the laws of justice are met. And He did that for Me and He did that for YOU.
Jesus did that for Judas.
I no longer appreciate or agree with the depiction of Judas Iscariot as a dark and loathsome and BAD human. For I see him as my brother, as one who struggles just as I do. I see him as just another one of us that is looking for truth and joy and making mistakes along the way. I see him in myself. As someone Jesus invites into his most intimate circles of revelation, instruction and constant love. We get to choose to join Him each day. We get to choose to apply the teachings and prove His words for ourselves to see if they are Truth we want to live by. To see if we are brought more joy, and Return to the Light from which we originated from. Did you know that Christ's Gospel of "repentance", translates from the ancient text simply as an invitation to "return home or return to the light from which we came?" Don't you LOVE that translation?
Words matter my friends.
I love you, as Jesus does