“After he had said this, Jesus was troubled in spirit and testified, “Very truly I tell you, one of you is going to betray me.”
John 13:21 NIV
One of the things we talk about when we think about Judas Iscariot’s role in the Jesus story, is whether he had any choice in the matter. If, as the next few verses in John tell us, Satan entered Judas when he took the bread Jesus offered him, and if Jesus already knew he was the one who would betray him, then surely he was just fated to be the bad guy. This kind of conclusion does not bode well for us. Are we just pawns in some cosmic chess game? Is free will really free?
These are valid questions, but I think we find the answers in the scripture. If your heart was for Jesus, and he said, the one who will betray me is the one I give this bread to, would you be leaning forward to take it? No, of course not. You’d probably be sitting on your hands. Judas freely took up the role he was offered, as Jesus knew he would. He was not tempting him, but just handing him the opportunity he’d been looking for.
In some ways, Jesus was being hugely compassionate. He was letting Judas know that he knew his heart, that the decision had already been made. He was also, in a deeply symbolic gesture, giving Judas a picture of what he was about to do. Before giving Judas the bread, he dipped it, and this being the Passover meal, most likely in bitter herbs. The giving was almost a question. Are you really ready to drink of this cup of bitter suffering with me? If I give you this bitter task, will you take it? Or will you break the bread and drink the wine instead? As he accepted the bread, reached out and took it, that was when, according to John, “Satan entered into him.” (verse 26) Like Jesus, John speaks figuratively a great deal. This was the point then, when Judas made his choice, deciding with whom to stand, and letting the enemy into his heart.
The Lord already knows the answers we will give, and acts on that. He does not tempt us, only eases the pain we have chosen, whatever it may be. I think that bread was dipped and given with great sadness and compassion. Just as we might pre-empt someone’s pain at breaking up with us by letting them know we understand, Jesus made it easier, and told him to go and do what he had to do. For several long years, Judas had been the holder of the purse (the ministry treasurer if you like) and was pocketing money the whole time. Do we think Jesus didn’t know this? Yet he let Judas continue in the role. The Lord does not love us any less for our sins or our failings, and always deals with us in love and grace. If the example of Judas tells us anything about free will, it is that it is free indeed.
Photo from Morguefile.com