The Trouble with Judas

I wish Judas hadn’t killed himself.

Judas Iscariot
 Image from: http://ubdavid.org/bible/characters3/characters3-11.html

You know the Judas I am talking about. Judas Iscariot. The disciple who betrayed Jesus for 30 pieces of silver.

The Bible tells us he killed himself. Every time I read through the accounts of Jesus’ betrayal, crucifixion, and resurrection,  I always find myself wishing that Judas hadn’t made the choice to end his own life.

But he did … and it bothers me.

~~~   ~~~   ~~~   ~~~   ~~~

Recently I read through Matthew 26 during my morning devotional.  This portion of Scripture gives quite a bit of insight into Judas.

For many years, I thought of Judas as some bumbling sort of soul, the kind of person who could easily be duped. In regards to his betrayal of Jesus, I assumed perhaps he was manipulated by the Jewish leaders for purposes much greater than anything he could aspire to do on his own.

Maybe he was a loser looking for friends in high places.

Perhaps he was a people-pleaser who couldn’t figure out a way to say no.

I wondered if he might be a young guy just looking for validation. 

Whatever his personality type, I always figured Judas sort of just “fell” into an unintended role as part of the Pharisee’s plan to get rid of Jesus.

According to Matthew 26, nothing could be further from the truth.

 Image found at Image Gallery: Miercoles Santo

Turns out, it was Judas who went to the chief priests.

Then one of the Twelve – the one called Judas Iscariot – went to the chief priests and asked, “What are you willing to give me if I deliver him over to you.”

~Matthew 26:14-15

It wasn’t the priests who were actively looking for an insider willing to betray Jesus. Rather, Judas was the one who took the first step. He set the betrayal in motion himself.

For the love of Christ, why did Judas do that?

Some people might use that phrase flippantly, but I’m serious.

Judas had just spent three years of his life walking all over Judea with Jesus. He had seen all of those miracles. He was there when the lame man walked, when Lazarus was raised from the dead, and when Jesus walked on the water. He had seen the miraculous healings. From the Sermon on the Mount to the feeding of the 5000, Judas heard and saw it all.

Didn’t he grow to love Jesus during that time? If so, then why would Judas betray Him?

Maybe it was …

For the love of money.

There’s no other reason that makes sense. Especially when you consider everything the Bible has to say about Judas and money.

You don’t have to dig around in the Gospels very far to figure out that money must have been extremely important to Judas. He was, after all, the treasurer for Jesus and the disciples, which meant he was in charge of the money bag.

We also know from Scripture that Judas was prone to helping himself to the money that was in that treasury. (John 12: 6) I can’t imagine that Jesus and his disciples had a lot of money to begin with, but Judas was sneaking out small amounts of it here and there for his own use. I’m sure he thought what he took would never be missed, but it appears that the others were aware of his tendency to take that which wasn’t rightfully his.

It seems that Judas had a problem money.

So money-loving Judas decided to go see the chief priests to barter for Jesus. The chief priests offered Judas 30 pieces of silver in exchange for Jesus’ betrayal. I have always assumed those coins must have been worth quite a large sum. But (as we have already seen), my assumptions aren’t always correct.

I did some research because I was curious just how much money Judas earned as Jesus’ betrayer.  And what I learned is that Judas was most likely paid with Tyrian shekels, which was the type of currency used to pay the Temple taxes. In those days, every Jewish male over the age of 20 paid a Temple tax, which was the equivalent of two days wages or 1/2 shekel.

So if 1/2 shekel was worth two days wages, then 1 shekel would be worth four days wages. Do the math and 30 shekels of silver would be worth 120 days wages. Therefore the coins Judas received in exchange for the betrayal of Christ would be worth approximately one third of a year’s salary.

Not too shabby.

Unless you read the previous passage in Matthew 26 … .

Start reading in Matthew 26:6 and you’ll come across the story of the woman who anointed Jesus with the fragrant oil. It’s another very familiar passage. According to the Gospels, Mary (sister of Lazarus and Martha) came into a dinner party and poured out an entire alabaster jar of oil on Jesus’ head.

This oil was very costly. In fact, in another Gospel’s version of this same event, Judas himself tells us exactly how much this oil was worth:

But one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, who was later to betray him, objected, “Why was this fragrant oil not sold for three hundred denarius, and given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages.”

~John 12:4-5

Later in the passage, we learn that Judas wasn’t known for being a man who cared about the poor and needy. His life of sneaking and stealing that which didn’t belong to him was known by those in Jesus’ inner circle. They recognized in this situation that Judas wasn’t concerned about money being used to help others.

So what was Judas concerned about? Why did he protest?

To Judas, anointing Jesus with an entire alabaster jar of fragrant oil was a nothing more than pointless extravagance. He didn’t see the oil being used in a sacrificial act of worship from a loving heart. When the precious oil was poured over Jesus, Judas could only see a frivolous waste of money. Money that could have lined the bag in which he freely dipped his hand.

It’s interesting to me that these two passages can be found side-by-side in the same chapter of Matthew. One tells of worship and sacrifice. The other is filled with betrayal and greed.

Mary anointed Jesus with oil. As she broke the bottle, out flowed the precious oil which could have been sold for an entire year’s salary. Yet, she knew the worth of the oil couldn’t begin to compare to the worth of Jesus Christ.

But to Judas, Jesus Himself was worth only about one third of a year’s salary.

Perhaps more accurately … a third of a year’s salary and his own soul.

Most Christians are familiar with how Jesus sent Judas away from the Passover table. Later, Judas led the Roman soldiers to the Garden of Gethsemane, where he betrayed Jesus with a kiss.  Jesus was bound by Roman guards and led away like a criminal.

I wonder what Judas was expecting as he stood in the garden and watched Jesus being led away. Did he have any idea that Jesus would be condemned to die?

The gospel of Matthew (chapter 27, verses 3-5) tells us the once Jesus was sentenced to crucify, Judas was “seized with remorse.” He actually went to the chief priests to return the money.

“I’ve have sinned,” he said, “for I have betrayed innocent blood.”

~Matthew 27:4

The priests didn’t care about Judas’ admission of guilt or confession of Jesus’ innocence.

Matthew’s gospel says that Judas threw the money into the temple and went away to hang himself.

This is what boggles my mind … if Judas knew he had done something terribly wrong, why didn’t he confess it to Jesus? Why didn’t he seek forgiveness from the one he wronged? After three years, didn’t he know the heart of Jesus? Didn’t he know he could pray to God and receive mercy?

So what kept him from seeking out forgiveness?

Pride?

Probably. It’s what keeps most of us from going to God and seeking forgiveness. At least, pride is what most often keeps me from admitting my sin.

This is why I wish Judas didn’t hang himself: Feeling remorse for our sins doesn’t do us any good.

It never has. Go all the way back to the book of Genesis and there in the Garden of Eden we read about Adam and Eve and the very first sin. What was the immediate reaction of Adam and Eve? Remorse. They experienced was remorse for their actions, and then they tried to hide their sin from God by sewing clothes from fig leaves.

Those first remorseful actions didn’t work for Adam and Eve. 

Remorse didn’t work for Judas either. 

Remorse still will not work for us.

So the lesson from Judas is to recognize that remorse for our wrongs doesn’t solve the problem. There needs to be more than just regret and remorse over our sins.

We need forgiveness. How do we get that forgiveness? It comes through the confession of our sins to God.

We also need repentance, which is simply the act of turning away from the wrongs we have done as we commit to live our life according to God’s way. (It doesn’t mean we never sin again. Far from it! It just means we look to Jesus as our example as we strive to live our life according to God’s way.)

I believe if Judas had confessed to Jesus and asked for it, he would have been forgiven. There would have been no need to hang himself in shame.  He would have received grace and mercy. He would have the promise of everlasting life.

Because that’s what the cross is all about.

For when we died with Christ we were set free from the power of sin. And since we died with Christ, we know we will also live with him. We are sure of this because Christ was raised from the dead, and he will never die again. Death no longer has any power over him. When he died, he died once to break the power of sin. But now that he lives, he lives for the glory of God. So you also should consider yourselves to be dead to the power of sin and alive to God through Christ Jesus. ~Romans 6:7-11

So if the Son sets you free, you are truly free. ~John 8:36

The Day Before the Day I Became a Writer

Challenger_Launch

January 28, 1986.

Millions of Americans, including thousands of school children, watched the Space Shuttle Challenger lift-off, carrying with it America’s first civilian teach into space.

Seventy-three seconds later, the shuttle exploded.

Those who watched, whether in Florida or elsewhere via TV screens, stared, transfixed by the plumes of white smoke mixed with traces of red against the backdrop of beautiful blue sky.

Seconds passed by. News announcers stuttered. Disbelief and shock slowly turned to horror.

~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~~

Where were you when the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded?

In January 1986, I was an 8th grade student at Harrisonburg Elementary School in rural Harrisonburg, Louisiana. My life revolved totally around the things happening at school, such as which girl liked which boy or if the school’s basketball team won the most recent game or when the next math test might be given. Outside of school, I enjoyed episodes of The Cosby Show or listening to the latest Whitney Houston ballad. I definitely wasn’t interested in the evening news.

This doesn’t mean that I was totally oblivious. I was aware enough to recognize the names of important world leaders: President Ronald Reagan, the United Kingdom’s Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher or Russia’s Mikhail Gorbachev. But I didn’t really see how what they did affected me or why I should be concerned with events that happened anywhere outside the tiny brick school building where I spent the majority of my time.

But on January 28, 1986, all of that changed …

Many of the details of my personal experiences from that day have long faded over the 34 years that have passed since the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded.

I do recall after school feeling mildly annoyed that there was nothing on TV except breaking news reports having something to do with a space shuttle, but I snapped it off without ever sitting down to listen.

Just minutes later, the phone rang. I answered and heard my friend’s voice on the other end:

Paige, have you heard? The space shuttle exploded! All of the astronauts were killed!

challenger

The news hit me as if a bombshell had detonated right there in my bedroom. Surely not! I couldn’t believe her words … and yet, as I slowly switched the TV back on, I could see for myself that my friend was right. As the images replayed again and again, I stared at the TV screen, trying to make sense of what I was seeing.

Seven astronauts smiling and waving to the small group of family and friends as they walked toward their waiting spacecraft. The giant white shuttle, pointed heavenward. The gradual lifting of the shuttle. The white trail of smoke against the brilliant blue winter sky. The explosion. One trail of smoke turned into two, before fading completely into the atmosphere.

I felt sick to my stomach, yet I was unable to turn my face away from the TV. All I wanted was for the story to be false, for it all to be a big mistake, for the newscasters to announce that somehow all the  astronauts survived.

I was 13 years old …  and it was the first time I can ever recall being emotionally affected by a national tragedy. It was the first time I can remember being part of a national mourning.

~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~~

January 29, 1986

Class, today’s writing assignment is to write about yesterday’s tragedy with the Space Shuttle Challenger. You can choose whether to write a factual record of the event or you can write down your emotional reaction to what happened.

My 8th grade English teacher, Mrs. Swayze, frequently gave out writing assignments. Normally our class offered up complaints and spent more time searching for paper and pencils than we didn’t writing.

This day was different. No one complained. No one wasted time searching for a pencil. Instead we wrote. And for what seemed like an eternity, the only sound to be heard in that classroom was that of pencils scratching across pages of loose leaf paper.

I don’t recall whether or not these essays were turned in that day, or if we spent several days editing those first drafts. Perhaps this was a bigger graded assignment, or maybe it was just counted as a daily activity and checked for completion. I’ve forgotten these insignificant details.

But what I do remember is the time I spent writing and how it felt to put all of my emotions down on that white sheet of paper. I remember how while I wrote I thought about being able to see a glimpse of every American on board that shuttle. The astronauts included whites, blacks, Asians, men and women, and a teacher. There was even a man with the last name Smith. It was as if we all were on that space shuttle together.

As I wrote about the sorrow of the tragedy, I came to realize something I never really knew before: writing can be cathartic to the soul. As I wrote, I owned my grief and began to come to terms with it. I didn’t know it that morning, but I would never again experience a sorrow in my life without writing my way through it.

A week or so later, my English teacher, Mrs. Swayze, announced that a small number of the essays written about the Challenger tragedy would be published in our tiny school’s newspaper. Mine was one of those essays chosen.

When my little essay was published, I learned something I never knew before: writers have a power to effect others. My friends read the essay and told me that my words helped them feel better. Teachers at the school came by and told me how they read my essay aloud to their classes. Some of them hugged me and thanked me for sharing my comforting thoughts. Writing, I realized, was a way to connect with other people.

~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~~

Somewhere, among all the boxes where I’ve packed up the bits and pieces of my childhood, there remains a tattered copy of that old school newspaper.

Every five or six years, I will happen across it as I search for something else I know must be tossed in those boxes of school yearbooks and 4-H ribbons and other items that tell the story of who I was before I grew into an adult.

Whenever I see that school newspaper, I take a moment to pick it up. As I reread that essay written by a 13-year-old girl, tears well up in my eyes. I am transported back to that January so long ago, remembering the hours I sat watching the tragedy replayed on the TV screen. In my mind, I can hear the scribbling of my pencil as I tried to write about that deep, sorrowful pain, trying to make sense of something that simply didn’t make sense.

~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~~

January 28, 1986 was a day of national tragedy.

It also happened to be the day before the day when I became a writer.

~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~~

And He who sits on the Throne said … “Write, for these words are faithful and true.”     ~Revelation 21:5

A Yankee Drummer for Dinner

I don’t know exactly when my mother started researching our family tree, but I must have been rather young. My childhood memories include walking around old, abandoned cemeteries, hours upon hours spent in the library while my mother scanned unreadable censuses taken long ago, and stacks of papers lying around with strange names and dates scribbled on them.

Early on, I was fascinated by the names I heard my mother repeating as she told my father about the ancestors she discovered … and this was especially true about the name of my great-great-great-grandfather, George Washington Allbritton.

Back when I was about 8 or 9 years old and first heard that name, I felt absolutely certain it meant we were somehow related to the real George Washington. After all, why else would his mother have named him that?

Sadly, George Washington isn’t even remotely anywhere along my family tree … but George Washington Allbritton and his wife Sarah are still worth talking about. In fact, there’s a great little story about this family.

Photo of George Washington Allbritton and his wife Sarah during their later years of life.
 Photo of George Washington Allbritton and his wife Sarah during their later years of life.

My son Joel wrote this version of the story for a narrative speech he gave way back in the 9th grade. He’s a college sophomore today, but I still feel pretty proud that he chose to retell this family tale all those years ago.

~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~~

BANG! BANG! BANG! 

BANG! BANG! BANG!

The steady beating rang out across the rural countryside.

The year was 1863. My great-great-great-great grandparents lived deep in the heart of the Confederacy, somewhere in the piney hills of Catahoula Parish in northern Louisiana. They were dirt poor, just simple farmers trying to work hard just to get by, certainly not wealthy land and slave owners.

The man of the house, George Washington Allbritton, had gone off to fight in the Civil War. He left his wife, Sarah, behind to care for their 12 children.

Early on this cold December morning, Sarah awoke to a steady drumming noise.

BANG! BANG! BANG!

Over and over, the sound continued, steady as a heartbeat. And the one thought racing in Sarah’s mind was that this must surely be the sound of Yankee drums.

Sarah quickly woke the children.

Hurry with your chores! Milk the cow and gather the eggs, and come right back inside!

Sarah tried not to panic, but the drumming continued as she cooked their biscuits and bacon for breakfast. As they bowed their heads over the meal, Sarah silently added an additional prayer that the Yankees wouldn’t come by their house today.

By mid-morning the drumming sounded louder. Sarah instructed her children to hide their meager possessions.

Wrap the family Bible in the quilt made by my mother, Maggie. Then you take it and bury it in the garden, Tom. Take all our corn meal, flour and dried salt pork, and hide it in the barn underneath the wagon and cover it with some hay, Ben. Hurry children! We don’t want the Yankees to take our things!

BANG! BANG! BANG!

Shortly after noon, Sarah was feeling frazzled from the constant pounding of the drums. Hardly a minute passed without hearing the beat reverberating throughout the hills surrounding their home. She sent the older boys to turn the old milk cow and the chickens loose.

We will not give the Yankees any of our hens for their supper tonight!

Later in the afternoon the sounds of a wagon could be heard, coming over the road. Swiftly, Sarah rushed all the children, from the youngest to the oldest indoors. She stood just inside the doorway of their small log home. Finally, after an eternity, a horse and wagon came into view.

What a relief! It was just her brother Martin. Perhaps he was on his way over to warn her or maybe he wanted to ensure that she and the children were safe from a Yankee raid. Sarah ran outside and flagged him down.

“Martin! Do you have any news of the Yankees?”

But to Sarah’s astonishment, Martin was unaware of any Yankees marching in the area. In fact, he hadn’t heard any drumming noises all day, though he could certainly hear the steady beat now!

BANG! BANG! BANG!

Martin listened closely for several long minutes. Finally he said, “Sarah, has that drumming sounded just like this all day?”

“Why, yes, it has. There might be an occasional small pause, but mostly it’s been steady since early this morning.”

“Well, it’s not getting any closer. I don’t think you need to worry about Yankees, but we do need to find the source.”

So Sarah and Martin took a walk around the farm, and there behind the barn they found an overturned barrel. Trapped underneath was Sarah’s Yankee drummer a old chicken trying to peck its way out.

As the sun sank low, Sarah sighed a sigh of relief as she stood in front of the stove to cook their supper. She sent the girls up to the garden to retrieve the family Bible, wrapped in her mother’s quilt, and the boys went out to find the old milk cow.

And later that evening, they bowed their heads and with thankful hearts said grace … before they ate their Yankee drummer for dinner!

~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~~

Joel’s rendition of this story mostly accurate, however he did use some writer’s liberties and changed or added a few details in order to make the story easier to tell for his speech class.

For example, when George Washington Allbritton left his wife Sarah to go fight in the war, only 2 of their children had been born. The remaining 10 were born after the Civil War had ended.

George Washington Allbritton and his wife Sarah with 11 of their 12 children.
George Washington Allbritton and his wife Sarah with 11 of their 12 children. We descend from their daughter Minnie, who is the last woman on the right on the back row.

Additionally, we don’t know if Sarah’s brother Martin came by to help her figure out it was a chicken under a barrel instead of a regiment of Yankee soldiers … but we do know that she did have a brother named Martin Van Buren Cassells. (Sidenote: I was pretty fascinated to discover a second presidential name in the family tree, even if I am not directly descended from him. There also happens to be a man by the name of Benjamin Franklin McGuffee in my family tree, who is a direct ancestor. Obviously, my ancestors were extremely impressed by certain historical figures.)

Other than those two details, the story is a true: Sarah did hear a steady beating and hid much of the family’s treasured items thinking that the Yankees were marching through the area. Later, she discovered the sound she heard was just a chicken trying to peck its way out from beneath an overturned wooden barrel.

Impossible

I’m a Baptist girl through and through, but I suppose I’ve lived long enough in Cajun country that perhaps Catholicism has rubbed off on me a little.

I say that because I’m about to make a confession. Specifically a Friday confession. It’s a Friday confession because I made a goal to write and publish a PCOS blog post every Friday.

So my painful confession is this: I don’t have one for today.

Right at this very moment I sitting here at my computer, worn out from the week and feeling totally guilty because I have failed to write a PCOS blog post for today.

But I did send off my book’s preface, introduction and two chapters to an agent, so there’s that. Maybe I don’t feel so guilty after all.

The thing I’m discovering that writing a book is hard work. Each day I am consumed with research, documentation, on top of writing and writing and writing. Of course, all this writing is on top of my regular stay-at-home mom job … you know, cooking and cleaning and laundry and grocery shopping and running around with teens and so on and so forth. And most days I wonder if I can get it all done.

A couple of days ago I saw the little pennant pictured below at Hobby Lobby.

I started to buy it, but I took a photo instead.

This writing a book feels pretty impossible right now. Then again, I can remember when the thought of writing just one chapter felt insurmountable and I’ve written two complete chapters and three more chapters are close to being done. I’m about 18,000 words into a 25,000 word book … which is a rather short book.

Even if it is short and even if I am more than halfway there, it feels impossible tonight. But I am remembering that if God is for me then who can be against me … including myself.

And the good news is that there will be a PCOS blog post on another day.

Write It Down

My one word focus for 2020 is WRITE.

This weekend, I spent some time creating a vision/encouragement board for desk area. I wasn’t sure how it would turn out when I started, but I love it! It has a fun vibe that makes me eager to plow ahead with the work I feel God has called me to do.

On the board, you may notice two handwritten squares. One of them boldly states, “I am a WRITER.” I’ve never called myself a writer before, but I decided that starting in 2020 I would use this descriptor.

Last Wednesday at our church supper, a rather precocious 5 year old girl was sitting at the table where Jon and I were eating. She peppered us with all sorts of questions. She asked Jon what sort of job he had, and when he told her that he was a geologist, she nodded her head as if she knew exactly what that meant. Then she turned to me and asked, “What is your job?”

I almost said, “I am just a mom.” But I caught myself.

I’m a writer,” I said.

A what?

A writer. I write books.

There was a moment of silence as she considered my words. Then she asked, “Do you mean librarian?”

I have to admit that even though the line of questioning was making me feel a bit like I was about to be accused of just pretending at what sort of job I had, I was impressed with this kid’s vocabulary.

“No,” I said. “I’m not a librarian. I am a writer. I write the words that you read inside the books at the library.”

“Oh … a writer.” She sighed, picked up her fork and said, “That’s a weird job.”

Weird or not, it’s what God has called me to do.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

In 2012, I attended two writer’s conferences.

Up until this point, I wrote as I felt the urge. I had a blog, but it was mostly just a hobby for me. But then my parents insisted I go to a local writer’s conference one weekend in March. I couldn’t say no as they paid the conference fee and kept all five of my kids for the weekend. I spent the entire conference wondering why I was there.

But, when it was over, I met a sweet friend named Christie … and somehow we ended up in Michigan three months later at a big national writer’s conference. Talk about being out of my league! I left there questioning what it was God wanted to do in my life in regards to writing.

All that summer, I prayed and asked God, “Do you want me to write?” Over and over and over I prayed and asked for direction.

That September I turned 40.

Remember Christie, my writer friend? Well, she sent me a box of gifts to open, one gift for each day of the week of my birthday. Each gift was wrapped individually and had a tag with a Scripture reference.

I had been opening gifts for three or four days when my actual birthday arrived. That morning, the kids excitedly asked if they could pick me a gift to open from the box. When I agreed, they brought me a gift … and when I opened it, I found a beautiful new ink pen, tagged with the Scripture Psalm 45:1.

My heart overflows with a pleasing theme;  I address my verses to the king; my tongue is like the pen of a ready writer.

Psalm 45:1 (CSB)

And that was when I knew God was calling me to be a writer.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

It’s been 7 years since that September morning. Honestly, I haven’t done much with that calling other than blog. I tried but as a homeschooling mom I often felt pulled in many directions. Ask any stay-at-home mother and she will tell you it’s a full-time job!

Last year, I began to feel like I didn’t have a job anymore. One by one, my teens were leaving the home for college and jobs. With just two left at home, I had all sorts of free time on my hands. I felt confused about what I should do. Go back to teaching? Take in more foster children? Volunteer at some worthy place?

And then God graciously reminded me … He already gave me a job. I’m His writer. I work for Him.

At first I felt guilty. Had I just been wasting time the last seven years? Had I neglected my calling?

And this is the verse God gave me:

Look, I am about to do something new; even now it is coming. Do you not see it? Indeed, I will make a way in the wilderness, rivers in the desert.

Isaiah 43:19 (CSB)

In the Bible, the number seven represents perfection or completion.

I don’t think the seven years between my calling to write on my 40th birthday to this new season in my life was wasted. God was preparing me and growing me. Instead of feeling confused and uncertain, I am confident in knowing my calling, and eager to do what God has given me to do.

It’s January 2020 … a new month, a new year, a new decade. And for me, it’s the start of a new career.

I am a writer.

Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: Write in a book all the words that I have spoken to you.

Jeremiah 30:2 (ESV)