Periodically in Lent, Bondings 2.0 will feature reflections by two New Ways Ministry staff members: Matthew Myers, Associate Director, and Sister Jeannine Gramick, Co-Founder. The liturgical readings for Palm Sunday are: Isaiah 50:4-7; Psalm 22:8-9, 17-20, 23-24; Philippians 2:6-11; Matthew 26:14-27:66.
These are the last words recorded by the Gospel writer about Judas Iscariot. How did it come to this? Why did Judas meet such a tragic end?
Judas was no casual acquaintance of Jesus. He was an apostle, a member of Jesus’ closest circle of friends and followers. Judas walked the long, dusty roads of Palestine with Jesus and shared his message of God’s tender love for every person. They shared meals and idle time with each other. They were more like brothers than friends. But somehow things went bad.
Jesus tells his disciples fifteen times in the Gospels to not be afraid. By the standard of sheer repetition, this message must have been very important to Jesus and the God he proclaimed. And the problem with Judas was that he was terribly afraid.
Judas was afraid that his trust in Jesus was misplaced — that the reign of God as Jesus described it was not enough for him anymore — so Judas approached Jesus’ enemies and offered to hand him over for a paltry sum of silver. Judas was afraid to acknowledge the truth of his betrayal, so he lied to Jesus (and perhaps to himself) during the Last Supper. Judas was afraid that his betrayal put him outside God’s mercy and love, so he hanged himself from a tree.
Fear led Judas to his tragic end.
I do not think Judas was a traitor worthy of scorn and damnation, but a fallible human compelled by fear who made a series of very grave mistakes. He is worthy of our compassion, particularly since we who are LGBT Catholics and allies may be a bit more like Judas than we want to admit. I do not suggest that we betray Jesus anew in our own day and time, but that sometimes our choices are compelled by fear rather than love. Let me explain.
Many of us experience a certain degree of fear when considering whether or not to say or do something about LGBT justice in our church. Many “what if” questions emerge, and we quickly imagine the worst possible consequences to our actions. For example, “what if my fellow parishioners reject me when I share that I’m gay?” Or, “what if my pastor denies me communion because I want to civilly marry my same-gender partner?” Or, “what if the bishop finds out about our welcoming LGBT parish ministry and forces us to close it?” The questions are many and varied. But instead of responding to each concern with thoughtful and life-giving discernment, we are tempted to let fear cripple us into inaction. Unfortunately, similar to Judas, that fear leads us away from building the reign of God and toward our own emotional and spiritual death.
Jesus offers us an alternative to fear and death. He says, “Take courage; it is I, do not be afraid.” The bold and prophetic example of Jesus helps to free us from fear, from all that holds us back from working for LGBT justice in our church. Instead of giving into our fears like Judas, may we have courage to live and share our own truths with one another.
–Matthew Myers, New Ways Ministry