FIRST LESSON Matthew 21:1-11 (p. 1531)
SECOND LESSON Matthew 26:1-4, 14-30 (p. 1542)
SERMON: “What a Friend He Had in Judas”
Would you ever consider naming your child Judas? There are some 317 million people in the United States, Less than 1600 have the first name of Judas. I was surprised to find out there are that many. For anyone who knows the passion narrative, and even for many people who don’t know it, the name Judas is synonymous with “betrayer” or “traitor.” Who wants to name their child that? The name actually comes from the Hebrew and means “praised one.” So, not such a bad name after all.
Some of you may recall hearing me talk about the fact that before my grandson was born, my daughter-in-law was determined that he would have an ‘unusual’ named. No David, John, Robert. . . When I visited at Christmas-time a little more than 4 months before the baby was born Carrie was thinking of naming him Aniken. Unless you have never watched Star Wars movies, the first thing that pops into your mind when you hear the name Aniken, is that Aniken Skywalker is the character who grew up to be Darth Vader, possibly the most evil person in the universe. I am so glad my son and daughter-in-law ultimately made a different choice!
Judas – praised one – now means “traitor” to most of us.
I count myself fortunate to have a vocation that involves the study of scripture. I continue to learn new things every time I study a passage. Not only does the name Judas mean both ‘praised one’ and ‘traitor,’ there are other words that carry more than one meaning. I learned just recently that in Matthew’s gospel that calling someone ‘friend,’ is not always an endearment.
Word studies can be both fun and important. Understanding the intended meaning of a passage can depend on reading and hearing it in context. Double meanings happen. A word means one thing here, and something quite different there.
For fun – think about how much humor is dependent on more than one meaning to a word or phrase. Try these out:
© The other day I held the door open for a clown. I thought it was a nice jester.
© Have you ever tried to eat a clock? It’s very time consuming.
© The butcher backed up into the meat grinder and got a little behind in his work. (Ewww!)
© Did you hear – the police were called to a day care center? A three-year-old was resisting a rest.
© And for the musicians among us: Show me a piano falling down a mineshaft, and I’ll show you A-flat minor.
Jesus speaks of Lazarus, whom he raised from death, as a friend. We are comforted and reminded to pray when we sing, “What a friend we have in Jesus.” But Matthew uses the word, more than once in a sarcastic, rather demeaning way. In the parable of the workers in the vineyard, when the workers who were hired at the start of the start to grumble and complain that the ones hired late in the day get just as much pay, the owner of the vineyard says, ‘I am not being unfair to you, friend. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? 14 Take your pay and go. I want to give the one who was hired last the same as I gave you. 15 Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?’ Matthew 20 13b-15
He also tells the story of a great banquet and all the guests who made their excuses not to show up, “10 so the servants went out into the streets and gathered all the people they could find, the bad as well as the good, and the wedding hall was filled with guests.
11 ”But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing wedding clothes. 12 He asked, ‘How did you get in here without wedding clothes, friend?’ The man was speechless.
And Jesus calls Judas ‘friend.’ Matthew tells us, that the time of Jesus’ death has come. He has shared a last meal with his disciples and then, separating himself from the others, prayed the great prayer of anguish in Gethsemane’s garden. Rising from prayer, he returns to the disciples and announces ominously, “See, my betrayer is at hand.”
Right on cue, Judas enters the picture with a band of tough guys armed with swords and clubs. Judas and his cohorts have a secret signal: Judas will go up to Jesus and kiss him. That way, Judas no doubt reasoned, the gang will know which one is Jesus but the kiss will be a perfect camouflage. Jesus will be fooled into thinking that Judas is still a devoted and loving disciple.
It didn’t work. If the armed men were not enough of a giveaway, Judas betrayed himself with his own words: “Greetings, Rabbi!” he burbled as he smeared the kiss on Jesus’ cheek. Greetings rabbi?
“Friend,” replies Jesus, not missing a beat. “Friend, do what you are here to do.” What Judas was there to do, of course, was betrayal. What a friend he had in Judas.
A pre-schooler resisting a rest.
A flat Minor . . . When Jesus calls Judas “friend,” it has to be heard at two levels. There is, first, the bitterly ironic level. Standing there with an armed posse bestowing an insincere kiss, Judas is no friend of Jesus. So, for Jesus to call him “friend” in this moment of treason is to use the word in Matthew’s peculiar vocabulary, as a verbal jab. “Well, what do we have here? If it isn’t my good friend, my old pal, Judas.”
At the same time, we know that Jesus is the one who has taught us to love our enemies. The one who could say from the cross, “Father forgive them; they don’t know what they are doing,” is also the one who loves Judas even in the midst of this betrayal. Jesus is the friend of sinners. Jesus is the friend of Judas, and he is the friend of all the disciples who “deserted him and fled” (Matthew 26:56), and he is the friend of all of us ... even we who, like Judas, do not know how to love him and are betrayers of his trust.
No matter who you are, no matter what you have done, God’s grace is for you.