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Mercy Moments: Season Two, Episode Eight

“Then when Judas, who had betrayed him, saw that he had been condemned, he felt remorse… and he threw the pieces of silver into the temple sanctuary and left; and he went away and hanged himself.” Matthew 27:3, 5

Once, in the not so distant past, my mom called me to brood over a betrayal that one of our loved ones had just experienced. I’m a really good brooder.  Especially on behalf of the ones I love.  Finally, my mom said, “Well, lesson learned.”  I agreed. “Yah!  Lesson learned.”  But after only a moment of further reflection, I backtracked. “Wait, mom.  That can’t be right!  What lesson was learned?  Was the lesson to trust no one?  Or share nothing?  Do everything on your own?  Risk nothing?”  Of course the natural temptation is to trust no one, but I thought back to years ago when I was going through a breakup. I was devastated.

So I decided to skip out on my regular appointment with my therapist for a good old-fashioned counseling session at the neighborhood bar. It turned out the bartender was also going through a breakup not of his choosing.  What was even better was that he was great at brooding too.  We were miserable together until at the end of our hours-long conversation, he flipped the vibe completely, saying, “Remember, you never lose when you choose to love.”  Really? Because it feels like I’m losing quite a lot right now.  For instance, my faith in humanity and my red couch.  Still, all these years later, that’s the only thing I remember about our conversation.  You never lose when you choose to love.

This week – Holy Week – is when we remember that Jesus chose to love at all costs.  And when it appears that he has indeed lost, he flips the vibe completely (in as much as the Resurrection can be a “vibe”).  But we’ll get to that later.  Let’s keep brooding a bit longer. 

Back to betrayal.  Betrayal implies a close relationship.  Judas betrays Jesus with a kiss.  Judas had been called – chosen – just like the other eleven.  He wasn’t cast as the villain; predestined to kill God.  He was a friend like Peter.  A trusted friend like John.  A friend who spent a lot of time with Jesus like James.  A friend who gave up everything else going on in his life to follow Jesus like Andrew.  In short, Judas was a good guy.

But that’s not what we’re told.

Consider this.  Peter denies Jesus three times and he becomes pope.  Judas betrays Jesus, recognizes the gravity of his decision, is overcome with remorse, takes his own life, and is known as the bad guy throughout all of history. 

Clearly Andrew Lloyd Webber saw the disparity in these two outcomes – giving Judas the best role in the Broadway production of Jesus Christ Superstar.  If you disagree or aren’t familiar with the musical, just know that growing up with a cassette tape of the original cast recording gave me (dare I say it) a soft spot for Judas.

As I consider Judas and the opportunity we have to empathize with his role in history, I wonder if this could be the impetus for the work of present day forgiveness. 

We know that some of Jesus’ last words were messages and prayers for forgiveness. 

“This day.  Paradise.”  He says this not only to the good thief, but I believe he says it to the guy on his other side too, and to Judas, and to all of us.

I’m assuming forgiveness comes more naturally to Jesus than it does to many of us.  And since we’re just beginning to forgive Judas after a couple thousand years, I’m not suggesting this is easy or even that I’m good at it!

Admittedly, I have led a life free of violence and abuse.  So if I am wronged, it might take me 2 minutes or 2 days or maybe even 2 weeks to chalk up the offense to a bad day or a bad childhood for the offender.  But if someone I love is wronged, I just might need the full two millenia.  Like I told my mom, I’m more than happy to go on brooding about the wrong done to my loved ones.  Forever.  And while my mind understands that my energy would be better spent actually supporting my loved ones rather than symbolically defending them with my anger; I’m a heart person.

In many cases, forgiveness can be a gift to the wrongdoer. In all cases, forgiveness must be a gift to the one granting it – freely given; a step closer to healing.  Forgiveness doesn’t negate what has been done.  It doesn’t even diminish it.  But it has the potential to set us free and allow us to hope again.  It can give us permission to love ourselves more completely and to extend that loving-kindness beyond ourselves into the world.

Thirteen years after the Good Friday Agreement was signed, putting to rest most of the violence that is known as The Troubles, or three decades of political conflict in Northern Ireland; I visited Belfast.  I had been invited to chaperone the high school’s summer study abroad experience in which we learned about conflict resolution through the lens of the Northern Irish peace process. 

One memorable visit was with a Presbyterian church community that had been dedicated to working with both Catholics and Protestants since the beginning of The Troubles.  One of their newer ministries was geared towards school-age boys. 

This program would often use soccer as a means of connecting, collaborating, and communicating – playing together in which the teams were composed of both Catholics and Protestants and sometimes even attending professional matches together.  But there was a catch.  If a Catholic kid wanted to attend his team’s matches with the group, he had to also attend the Protestant team’s matches and vice versa.  This meant they’d be sitting in the opposition’s home section for some matches.  These were kids who had been born after the Good Friday Agreement.  Still, it was clear they had inherited the fear and distrust, if not hate as well.  When they shared with our group what it was like for them to commit to sitting in the opposing team’s section, it was unlikely there was any request more frightful for them at that point in their lives. 

We attended a game with the group – sitting in the Protestant section.  For me, it was uneventful.  Good game.  Not a clue who won.  But for the young boys, it was everything.  It was a risk that both they and presumably their parents felt was worth taking.  At that game, my biggest choice was what snacks I was going to buy at halftime.  But for the boys and their entire families, they had decided to risk forgiveness, to confront healing, and to choose to love.  Clearly, the outcome of the game was much bigger than what was displayed on the scoreboard.  The boys were beginning to learn that we never lose when we choose to love. 

Bottomline: if a bunch of 11-year-olds can commit to the work of forgiveness – and not just for petty grade school squabbles but for generational trauma – then maybe I can as well.

This week, perhaps we can commit to a Good Friday Agreement of our own – modeled after the forgiveness of Jesus and the kids in Northern Ireland.  May we come one step closer to paradise today and each day we risk forgiveness, confront healing, and choose to love.