Forgiving Judas

It’s easy to vilify Judas, but is it the appropriate response to betrayal?

By Miguel De La Torre

Lately I have been rethinking Judas -- history’s ultimate villain.

Dante in Canto XXXIV places Judas in the Ninth Circle -- the deepest realm of the Inferno. Under his feet are the most evil of sinners, traitors of their benefactors, completely covered in ice. They are frozen into contorted poses, several feet deep.

In this darkly cold inner circle of Hell, Dante notices a giant Lucifer with three faces. In each of Satan’s three mouths, Lucifer holds a sinner. The center mouth holds Judas, the traitor of Jesus. In the mouths to the right and left are Brutus and Cassius, the traitors of Julius Caesar.   

It is simple, if not cathartic, to demonize those who betray us. We have all had a Judas in our life – someone we treated with love and kindness, took under our wing and to whom we were a benefactor. We opened doors for them, provided them with opportunities, fought battles for and even lost friends and funds by choosing to stand up in their defense.   

And then, out of nowhere, we were sideswiped by betrayal -- having the person not only lie but do it publicly in an attempt to destroy our reputation, honor and career. Yes, I can understand Dante’s desire for vilifying the ingrates of the world, but I wonder if it is the most appropriate response.

One joy of living in Miami during the 1970s was crabbing. Many of us would go to the beach to hunt crabs, placing our prey in a bucket. Later at home, they would be prepared for dinner.

On the way home the youngest had the responsibility of keeping an eye on the bucket, lest a crab escape. Yet surprisingly, none ever did. You see, every time a crab climbed to the top rim of the bucket, one of those below would pinch the would-be escapee’s leg and drag it back down.

In a way, historically oppressed groups have behaved like the bucket of crabs, at times responsible for our own oppression.

I am among the first to recognize the complicity of well-meaning Euroamericans with institutionalized racism, but it is just as important for those of us from marginalized communities to move beyond the rhetoric of blame.

A strategy for dealing with our disenfranchisement that relies solely on blaming our oppressors is insufficient for bringing about a justice-based community. Unfortunately, like the bucket of crabs, we are at times our own worst enemies.

Why are fellow crabs quick to play the role of Judas? Could it be that most crabs have overblown egos, or worse, larger insecurities? Have the oppressed learned from oppressors that the way to succeed is to make sure no one else in the bucket achieves such heights, thus they have to be brought back down?

People of color are no different than a bucket of crabs when we choose to live up to the stereotypes imposed upon us by the media and the dominant culture, feeling that in order to “belong” to our marginalized group we must exhibit counterproductive activities to avoid the accusation of being “too white.”

Are we a bucket of crabs when we are more concerned with protecting our “turf,” our fragile egos or our “recognized” status within the disenfranchised community than with protecting the rights of our people as a whole?

Are we a bucket of crabs when we allow the dominant culture to choose for us our leaders and spokespersons, individuals indebted to those who placed them in power, thus making them overly cautious about making any waves or demanding justice for our people?

Are we a bucket of crabs when those who have achieved some measure of success refuse to reinvest their talents and resources in others who are disenfranchised, striving to raise both consciousness and the quality of life of those marginalized? 

Are we a bucket of crabs when our self-appointed leaders refuse to become involved in supporting those who are working to establish justice because they will neither receive the credit nor be spotlighted?

Are we a bucket of crabs when we’d rather sit in climate-controlled committee rooms talking about leadership than working selflessly within the community to bring about change?

While I greatly appreciate those progressive Euroamericans who are willing to stand in solidarity with us, I am greatly disillusioned when our own people refuse to take ownership of our own process of liberation. As long as we allow the dominant culture to define “justice” for us, we will never achieve any form of liberation from oppressive structures. 

Unfortunately, there are at times too many Judases among us willing to do the dirty work of those wanting to protect the power and privilege of the dominant culture.

No doubt the priestly leaders were glad when one of Jesus’ own came forward to spew lies and allegations against his benefactor. Surely the Romans were quick to believe these same lies and allegations when brought to them from those who they oppressed.

Yes, those closest to us can do the greatest harm. But how should we proceed? Should we stop being a benefactor? Stop fighting for justice? Become a recluse? 

Heavens no. We are called to unconditionally continue to love deeply and to humbly walk on the path of justice. We will be hurt, and our enemies might very well believe the lies said about us, but we are not judged by them. Rather, we stand with confidence before the throne of righteousness.

As per Judas -- let us learn to be more compassionate. Let us learn to forgive Judas, pray for his salvation and be willing to wish for him hope. After all, when Jesus said that he was going to be betrayed that night, did not all of the disciples wonder if it was them? You see, any one of us can easily betray our own benefactor, for in reality we are all stuck in the bucket of oppression.

No, Judas should not be vilified. Not to excuse his horrible betrayal, he is to be pitied.

OPINION: Views expressed in Baptist News Global columns and commentaries are solely those of the authors.