And what about Judas?
The creative transformation of sin
and the grace of a million second chances
Reverend Teri Daily
For process theologians, these fresh possibilities are called initial aims–divine promptings within us that guide us along paths of forgiveness, mercy, and compassion, always drawing us toward the greatest healing, beauty, and wholeness available in each situation...Other Christians may refer to these new possibilities as resurrection opportunities that come to us through the outstretched hand of an ever-merciful God–a God who is always inviting us to join in the ongoing co-creation of the world, to participate in the continuing work of reconciliation through which all things are being made new. Some may simply call these new possibilities “second chances,” or “do-overs.” To all of us, they are experiences of grace. And so as we approach the new year, each with our own longings from deep within, may we walk in the joy of new opportunities, and the redemptive grace of a million second chances.
-- Teri Daily, from May I Try That One Again: The Grace of a Million Second Chances
-- Teri Daily, from May I Try That One Again: The Grace of a Million Second Chances
Write for her Scarves:
An ancient manuscript of the Gospel of Judas surfaced in the late twentieth century and was translated in the early 2000s. This gospel isn’t part of our canon of scripture, the scripture that holds authority in our tradition, probably because of its “gnostic” leanings. It depicts reality in dualistic terms of light and dark, spirit and matter, those who are enlightened and those who live in ignorance. It depicts salvation as the return to an “imperishable” realm. But perhaps the most memorable thing about the Gospel of Judas is that, in this text, Judas doesn’t betray Jesus out of greed or a thirst for power or a rogue spirit. Instead, when Judas hands Jesus over to the authorities, Judas is obeying a direct command from Jesus. The Gospel of Judas may not conform to an orthodox understanding of things, but it does wrestle with some of the same questions as the texts that do make up our accepted canon of scripture—particularly this question: If Judas’ action was part of God’s greater work of salvation, does that mean God intended all along for Judas to betray Jesus to the chief priests? In other words, was Judas’ betrayal necessary for God’s plan of redemption to play out?
It’s an underlying subtext in today’s readings from Acts and from the gospel of John. In the passage from Acts, Peter stands and tells the believers that Judas served as a guide for those who came to arrest Jesus, so that Holy Scripture might be fulfilled. And then, of course, they cast lots to determine who will take Judas’ place as the twelfth disciple. In the gospel of John, on the eve of his crucifixion, Jesus prays for the unity of the disciples and for their protection; and he reminds God that he has protected the disciples while he has been with them—the only one of them to be lost was the one “destined” to be lost, meaning Judas.
It’s easy to understand how Judas’ betrayal came to be thought of as necessary by early Christians. We tend to think in similar ways today, too. A poor choice, sometimes even an evil choice, ends up being part of a greater story of redemption and grace; an illness leads to a life-giving transformation. And we suddenly speak in ways that imply God had intended such harm or suffering just so redemption could come from it. I don’t think God ever intends for us to do harm, or for us to become ill or suffer; God doesn’t orchestrate these events in our lives. But God does redeem them.
And this is where I find helpful the work of Sam Wells, an English priest and the former Dean of Duke Chapel. He speaks of this using theater lingo. In improvisational theater, an actor “offers” a gesture, some words, or an action to another actor, and that second actor can respond in one of three ways. The second actor can respond to the offer by “accepting” it, meaning that the actor receives the offer and plays out the scene in the terms that have been set by the first actor. Or the second actor can “block” the offer that comes from the first actor; the second actor can refuse to continue the scene or refuse to respond in a way that is in continuity with what was offered to him or her—in other words, he or she can put an end to the offer and do something completely different. Finally, the second actor can choose to “overaccept” the offer; he can say yes to what was offered by the first actor but reframe it, fitting it into a larger overarching story or narrative.
This is how God works in the world, by overaccepting; this is how Jesus responded to Judas’ betrayal. Jesus doesn’t block Judas’ action. Instead, Jesus takes the offer from Judas, he takes the betrayal. He doesn’t use violence or “divine power” to get out of the situation; he doesn’t return evil for evil. He accepts the offer all the way to the cross. And it’s here that the terms of Judas’ betrayal are completely transformed. Because death doesn’t have the final word, resurrection does. And that’s why the cross is said to be “the most powerful example of God’s overaccepting of an evil human offer.”
This is the way God works in the world. God doesn’t plan evil or suffering or harm in order to bring about ultimate good; and God doesn’t block or prevent human actions. We feel the consequences of what we do and what others do, good and bad. But God doesn’t let our destructive intent have the last word. God takes what we offer and reframes it, placing it in a larger story of love and redemption. This is what we call salvation. Salvation in the Bible is not necessarily sin avoided; it is sin transformed. And that is incredibly good news for many reasons.
First, if God worked in the world by blocking some of our actions and accepting others, we as human beings would lose the ability to participate with God in the creation of the world in any meaningful way; we would lose the ability to respond freely in ways that are purposeful and make a difference. But like actors in an improv theater, we do play a role in how the drama of the world unfolds. That’s why providence or fate isn’t about a certain set of events that will definitely take place at the end of time; it’s about trusting the pattern of resurrection.
Second, knowing that God will take what we offer and respond in a way that places it in an overarching story of love and redemption means that we can have the courage to act—to make choices—even when we are uncertain or see no good options in front of us. Yes, we will feel the consequences of our actions, and so will others. But we also have the deep hope that, in the words of a wonderful poem, every choice, every event, “holds its own secret for redemption.”
And, finally, the way God works in the world shows us something about how we, too, might respond to the suffering and evil that come our way. How we, too, might overaccept. We can’t ignore the hurt we experience, and we shouldn’t; it’s real. But can we trust the resurrection pattern? Can we place our stories, whatever they may be, in a larger narrative of love and redemption?
We’ve all seen people who not only survive adversity, but are transformed by it. Through it, they help bend the world along the arc of love and redemption. They are “good stewards of their pain”—not returning it back out into the world, but instead becoming more compassionate and loving through it.
An example is Judith Campau—a woman living in Utah who was raped as a young girl. Afterwards she struggled with moving forward; her self-esteem was incredibly low. So her doctor encouraged her to write inspirational notes to herself and to keep them in her pocket at all times. Every time she reached in her pocket—to get change or to pull out Chapstick—she would touch that note and think about what was written on it. She found that it helped her survive a difficult time; she became increasingly confident. Later, when Judith’s mother-in-law was diagnosed with cancer, Judith knew she wanted to write something for her—and she wrote it on a beautiful scarf that her mother-in-law could wear. From that action grew a whole organization, called Write for Her Scarves, that initially provided inspirational scarves for women in domestic violence shelters and for women undergoing cancer treatment. In speaking of the scarves, someone once remarked that “You would never think a creation so beautiful could have come from a place of pain.”
Of course, it often takes years for us to be able to incorporate our tragedies into a larger narrative of life, love, and redemption. And for some of us, it never fully happens in this lifetime. But sometimes the seed of redemption hidden within even a tragic event can begin to germinate and grow, sometimes even thrive. That doesn’t mean God planned or orchestrated the event, but with God’s help it can ultimately become a source of grace. That’s what Sam Wells means by overaccepting.
So back to today’s readings… I don’t believe God mapped out Judas’ action of betrayal, or that Judas had no option other than to do what he did. And yet life continued—the greatest drama ever (the death and resurrection of Jesus) played itself out, the disciples cast lots and added Matthias to their number, the Holy Spirit would come to continue Christ’s work of reconciliation in the world making all things new.
And what about Judas? Well, scripture tells us that Judas died shortly after he betrayed Jesus, most likely because he couldn’t live with what he’d done. But there’s also a tradition in the Church that holds that Jesus descended to hell before his resurrection, or at least descended among the dead. In other words, Jesus and Judas were together again. Frederick Buechner describes the scene this way: “Once again they met in the shadows, the two old friends, both of them a little worse for wear after all that had happened, only this time it was Jesus who was the one to give the kiss, and this time it wasn't the kiss of death that was given.”
 The idea of improvisational theater as a metaphor for God’s action in the world, particularly that of overacceptance, comes from Sam Well’s book Improvisation: The Drama of Christian Ethics (Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2004). I became acquainted with his work through the explanation in Scott Bader-Saye’s book Following Jesus in a Culture of Fear (Grand Rapids: Baker Publishing, 2007). The quote above comes from page 95 of that book.
 The Rev. Dr. Alla Renee Bozarth, “Unsolvable Things,” in Women’s Uncommon Prayers, Elizabeth Rankin Geitz et al., editors (New York: Morehouse, 2000) 255.
 Frederick Buechner’s sermon, “The Stewardship of Pain,” first aired on the Chicago Sunday Evening Club TV program on 1/27/91. It can now be viewed on youtube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=73hdH1_z2ps.
 Kim Fischer, “Local woman uses her tragedy to help others,” Good4Utah.com. http://www.good4utah.com/story/d/story/local-woman-uses-her-tragedy-to-help-others/39449/P0YMjS-kukyyvMKVB3LkUg. The website of Campau’s organization, Write for Her Scarves, can be found at writeforherscarves.com.
 Frederick Buechner, Peculiar Treasures (New York: HarperCollins, 1979) 83.