In my Bible time, I’ve been working through the book of John. Just the other day, I was reading the last supper passage when Jesus predicts his betrayal. He’s spent the whole evening preparing and caring for his disciples, getting them ready for the horrendous event that’s heading their way, and then he lets loose that oh so painful truth. Someone at that table is going to betray him.
We know the story. The disciples react in big demonstrative ways, all of them asking if it’s going to be them or asking Jesus outright who the betrayer will be. When asked directly, Jesus gives them an answer, and the small exchange that follows is haunting.
“Jesus responded, ‘It is the one to whom I give the bread I dip in the bowl.’ And when he had dipped it, he gave it to Judas, son of Simon Iscariot. When Judas had eaten the bread, Satan entered into him. Then Jesus told him, “Hurry and do what you’re going to do.’” (John 13:26-27)
I’ve thought about this passage many times, wondering what that definitive moment of betrayal must have been like and wondering what could have possibly been going through Judas’ head. When I was younger, it was always a passing moment. In my mind’s eye, Jesus almost tossed the bread at Judas who just sort of bumbled away like he’d lost some party game. But later the scene has taken on a lot more gravity. This wasn’t an offhand moment, this was an incredibly personal moment between Jesus and Judas where more than one fate was sealed.
We tend to look at Judas like a stock character for betrayal. We’ve had little hints up to this point that Judas wasn’t exactly a great guy, but those hints are the benefit of hindsight and wouldn’t have been widely known at this dinner. We have the context of everything that came after, the knowledge that Judas was definitely the betrayer and that later, tormented by grief over what he’d done, he took his own life. But it’s a mistake to overlay all of that over this single moment. Otherwise, we run the risk of calling Judas a betrayer before he actually was one and that’s a very important distinction. That’s what keeps Judas from being just another stock villain. Realizing that, the sequence of events here is incredibly important and tells us something huge about Judas.
Judas always had a choice.
Judas is not an unwilling participant in this story. He’s not at the whim of some unseen author that dictates his most minuscule of movements. He has agency, choice, free will. Judas may not be able to change the story God is telling, but he has every choice over how he himself engages in it.
There was a very precise moment in history in which Jesus’ hand was outstretched to Judas with the bread in an offer. He didn’t force it into Judas’ hands and Judas wasn’t compelled to take it against his will. The bread was offered, and Judas looked at Jesus, reached out his own hand, and took the bread. That was the moment, not one second before him taking and eating the bread, that was the exact moment that Satan entered Judas and he became the betrayer. It didn’t happen before he made his choice. Judas didn’t stumble into betrayal. He chose it.
In a lot of ways, it makes what Judas did that much more horrible. How horrifying that he made eye contact with the one person who could save him, who was offering the chance to say no and walk away from the terrible path he was on, and still went through with his betrayal. What’s more, Judas’ actions are a warning sign and a tragic story set to turn us away from his same mistake. Because like Judas, that final choice in a moment of pivotal decision always rests on us.
You always have the final say over your actions.
Yes, there are all sorts of outside influences that you bring with you. Yes, there are things that will have made your life harder than the lives of others. Yes, there are circumstances that are leaving you exhausted and tired of trying. But none of those things actually have the power to force you into a course of action. You can be absolutely down-trodden, broken, and hurt and still have that last say over your choices, and you always will.
It’s a fact as beautiful as it is terrible. Beautiful because history has shown us some incredible people who have risen above everything and still choose goodness, kindness, and love despite everything bent on keeping them low. Terrible, because we also have ample examples of people who have chosen horrible, self-serving paths that kick anyone lower than them off the ladder as they climb.
There will be people who try to convince you that some choices are set in stone for you and unavailable for change, but they are feeding you a lie because it’s easier for that to be true than for them to accept their irresponsibility of action.
So what are we meant to do? We’re meant to make choices based on truth and the calling the sings through your heart in God’s voice. We’re meant to feel all the horror that comes from examining Judas’ actions and shove his example as far away from ourselves as possible. If Judas could choose to be a betrayer, we can choose to be so much more. It will be well worth so much more than the pain that would have you believe you have no options left. You are meant for greater choices.
If you narrow down your decisions to just the next thing God is calling you to do, it makes it infinitely simpler to choose goodness and love over selfish, deceitful gain. There are so many things that are outside of our control, but our choices never are. Don’t tire of making ones that pull you closer to God’s heart.
Let’s find some joy,