A Sidebar to the Crucifixion

Jesus was not the only one to experience a lonely death that day. There was another and it was quite poignant. Jesus’ death would be redeemed even as it marked the way for redemption. The other death would be ignominious and mark a sad end to a man who had been offered the keys to the kingdom. We’ve met him a number of times as we’ve lingered over the Gospel of John. His name was Judas. We are offered two different snapshots of his tragic choice: When Judas, who had betrayed him, saw that Jesus was condemned, he was seized with remorse and returned the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders.  “I have sinned,” he said, “for I have betrayed innocent blood.” “What is that to us?” they replied. “That’s your responsibility.” So Judas threw the money into the temple and left. Then he went away and hanged himself. ~Matthew 27:3-5

It would be a few more years before Luke would supply, in the Book of Acts, additional details: Now this man purchased a field with the reward of iniquity; and falling headlong, he burst asunder in the midst, and all his bowels gushed out. ~Acts 1:18 Scholars generally agree that both accounts represent a fair “Crime Scene Investigation” of what took place. One line of thinking is that Judas hung himself and his body was not found for some time. Eventually he slipped the knot and crashed to the ground. The other line believes that Judas picked a location above a precipice and managed to choose a weak branch. In that scenario he died from the fall but not from the hanging. We’ve spoken of distinctions without a difference. This is but another example. It doesn’t matter. What does matter is that it was grisly, final and lonely.

Had Judas waited a few more days his malevolent betrayal could have been forgiven by the resurrected Christ. In many respects the denials of Peter were no less an outrage. But Peter stuck around and awaited the day of grace. Judas did not.

It is an instructive tale for those who have failed. And, from my few decades on earth that includes everyone. The first step in receiving the pardon we need is to believe that a pardon actually awaits us. I said earlier that Judas perished in loneliness, but that isn’t quite true. Judas died with a legion of malignant cheerleaders urging the tragic choice. Those voices convinced him that his sin was too unique, too egregious to match the mercy of heaven. In his mind the chorus rang out that his failure was bigger than the cross. It was then, and remains now, a lie of hell. No matter how far we’ve fallen there are hands to catch us beneath what we consider our lowest point.