The story of Jesus and Judas is a tragic account of a man who became so deceived by the lies he believed that he betrayed his friend and leader.  At a human level, it is also a story of how Jesus overcame that offence and betrayal.  Judas was one of Jesus’ twelve disciples (Mk 3:16-19).  For three years, they travelled together through-out Galilee and Judea, sharing meals, talking, story-telling, no doubt laughing and doing life together.  Yet from the beginning Jesus also knew he would experience deep offence in his relationship with Judas (John 6:64).  So how did Jesus approach this relationship? As we read the gospel accounts and seek answers to this question we discover Jesus going through a journey of forgiveness that can be a pattern for all of us.

Confronting Issues

Jesus lovingly confronted Judas over his attitudes and actions. We see this when Judas takes offence at the way Mary used expensive perfume to wash the feet of Jesus with her hair (John 12:1-8).  Jesus did not avoid the confrontation.  He addressed the criticism, as much to defend Mary as to explain his acceptance of her gift.  He tells Judas to “Leave her alone,” and he addresses Judas’ distorted interpretation of her actions.  Jesus saw beyond the surface issue to Judas’ wrong motives.

When offences come it is important to acknowledge there is a problem and decide on appropriate ways to address the issue.  It may simply involve admitting to ourselves that we have been hurt and that what happened was wrong.  If needed, it could involve meeting that person one to one to address the issue, but recognizing that we could also be at fault.  It could involve public confrontation when it is a public issue.  It could involve legal action to protect the powerless as opposed to just getting revenge. None of this is a violation of any principle of forgiveness.  Loving confrontation can be an appropriate way to deal with offence and it can be an important part of the forgiveness journey (see Matthew 18:16-20 and the following verses on forgiveness).

Deciding to Forgive and Seeking Reconciliation

Jesus did not just confront Judas, he also sought to be reconciled with him.  He clearly made deliberate decisions to demonstrate his on-going willingness to reconcile with Judas.  At the last supper he washed the disciples’ feet, including those of Judas (John 13:1-5).  The action must have reminded Judas of his criticism of Mary’s actions in washing Jesus feet a few days earlier.  Yet here Jesus is demonstrating that he was also willing to serve.  His life purpose was to give himself for others, including Judas (Mark 10:45).

That same evening, we also see Jesus offer a powerful cultural symbol of friendship to Judas.  He eats and drinks with him in the covenant meal of Passover, and he dips his bread in the same cup as Judas (Matthew 26:17-29).  Jesus does not ignore Judas’ planned actions--he makes it known that someone is going to betray him.  However, at all times, such confrontation is accompanied by an offer of reconciliation.  Even when Judas finally betrays Jesus with a kiss a few hours later, Jesus continues to call him “Friend” (Matthew 26:47-50).  There is no sarcasm in these words.  Jesus always addressed Judas with words that invited him back into covenantal relationship.

Offering Forgiveness Even if it is Not Accepted

As Jesus walks the path to the cross, Judas finally comes to his senses.  He sees the depths of his betrayal.  Then in one of the most tragic scenes in the Bible, Judas takes the law into his own hands and condemns himself (Mt 27:3-10).   However, this was a tragic choice, not an inevitable outcome to the story.  What if Judas had gone to the foot of the cross instead of giving up on himself? If Judas were at the cross, can you imagine Jesus saying, “Father forgive them, except for this one—he deserves what he gets.”  It goes against the whole arc of Jesus life and ministry.  Imagine Peter asking Jesus “How many times do we forgive—seven times?” and then Jesus responding, “70 times seven; except if it is Judas.” That would violate the whole thrust of Jesus teaching on forgiveness (Matthew 18:21-35).  Jesus consistently and without fail offered Judas kindness, covenant friendship and the possibility of forgiveness.  The potential for forgiveness is only limited by our response. However immense the hurt, betrayal or sin, God’s grace is always larger.

Finding Meaning and Purpose

Not every journey of forgiveness ends with reconciliation.  Not everyone will accept an offer of forgiveness.  However, even when this happens, we can still find meaning and purpose in the journey.  Meaning is past oriented recognizing what God has done in our life. Purpose is future oriented, finding ways in which our experiences can be used for the greater good. Jesus journey of forgiveness had immense meaning and purpose. The way Jesus handled the betrayal of Judas provides us with a meaningful example of the importance and power of offering forgiveness.  The death of Jesus on the cross was initiated by Judas actions, but it had a far wider purpose in bringing an offer of reconciliation and forgiveness to all of us.

The Journey of Forgiveness

Jesus attitudes and actions to Judas are a confronting model for each one of us.  If we are true to Jesus example, none of us can say “I can forgive anyone except that person.”  We have a powerful challenge in the story of Jesus and Judas to offer forgiveness to everyone that has offended us.  Facing that challenge can be made easier if we realise that forgiveness is a process.  It is journey.

Professor Robert Enright is an educational psychologist who has studied the process of forgiveness extensively.  He was called the forgiveness trail-blazer by Time magazine.  He research shows that a healthy process of forgiveness can bring new life to the one who has been hurt and betrayed.  It releases them from an emotional prison of bitterness, reproach and un-forgiveness. Enright identifies four phases in the forgiveness process. We have seen aspects of each of these stages in Jesus journey of forgiveness with Judas.

Phase One: Uncovering Hurt and Anger.

Phase Two: Deciding to Forgive.

Phase Three: Working on Forgiveness through:

a) Seeking understanding of the person or situation

b) Potentially discovering a degree of compassion for the offender

c) Accepting the pain

d) Demonstrating forgiveness (Enright calls this "Giving a Moral Gift")

Phase Four: Discovering Meaning and Purpose.

Where are you on your forgiveness journey? All of us need forgiveness, but as followers of Jesus we also need to offer forgiveness to others. The journey of forgiveness is costly, but ultimately it brings healing, meaning and purpose. It demonstrates to the world the forgiveness Jesus showed at the cross and the resurrection life that can come when we follow the way of the cross.

Your Next Steps

1. Reflect on the story of Jesus and Judas and what it tells us about handling betrayal and the forgiveness process.

2. If you are struggling with un-forgiveness, identify where you are in the forgiveness journey and think about some of the next steps you can take.

3. For further information and practical advice read Robert Enright’s book Forgiveness is a Choice.

4. Meet with someone you trust who can help you on this journey.  For example, you can talk to your life group leader or contact our CityLife Community Care Counselling Team on (03) 9871 8900.

Discussion Questions

1. Discuss what the story of Judas and Jesus can teach us about handling betrayal and forgiveness.

2. When and in what circumstances do you think confrontation is an appropriate part of a forgiveness journey?

3. Why do you think it is important to allow people time to decide to forgive?

4. What practical steps do you think someone can take to start a journey of forgiveness?

5. In what ways do you think it is possible to discover meaning and purpose from a place of hurt and offence?

6. If some group members feel safe and comfortable, share some stories from your own journeys of forgiveness.

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