Judas the Healer
Today we see Jesus sending out the apostles to spread their wings and try a little ministry on their own.
He “summoned his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to cure every disease and every sickness.”
That’s pretty important work, and pretty advanced work for a group of people who much of the time seem to not just have trouble understanding Jesus’ teaching, but often behave according to the exact opposite of what he’s trying to convey.
But Jesus, in a spectacular instance of the risk-taking behavior he so often displays, trusts them with significant power and authority.
And what drew my eye as I read it this time was the last name on the list. “These are the names of the twelve apostles: first, Simon, also known as Peter, and his brother Andrew; James son of Zebedee, and his brother John; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Cananaean, and Judas Iscariot, the one who betrayed him.”
Jesus sends Judas out with power over unclean spirits and the ability to cure every disease and sickness.
Judas who will betray him, as Matthew takes pains to remind us.
It seems unwise at best to send out a man that Jesus must at least have an inkling or maybe even full knowledge of his tendency to judgmentalism (“This money should have been used for the poor!” in response to a generous woman’s loving anointing of Jesus feet in Matthew 26), greed (“He was a thief; he kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it,” according to John), and of course the betrayal itself, Jesus’ life for thirty pieces of silver.
What kind of person is this to entrust with divine power?
But Jesus does.
What do we make of this?
Well, first, let’s ask what happens. Are the disciples successful in what Jesus has asked them to do?
Matthew doesn’t tell us, but Luke quotes a group of disciples returning from being sent out to minister, writing that they “returned with joy, saying, ‘Lord, in your name even the demons submit to us!’”
It seems likely that if Judas had not been successful, one or more of the gospel writers would have certainly wanted to rub it in and gleefully point it out, so we’re left with the assumption that Judas completed the good works of casting out demons and liberating people from illness and possession.
We most often only think of “Judas the Betrayer,” but here, right in the text, we have “Judas the Missionary” and “Judas the Healer.” Fascinating!
I think the most important thing we can take away from this is a rebuke to our own tendency to see people as one-dimensional, particularly people we don’t like and people who have hurt us.
We all do it—the other name for it is stereotyping.
Republicans, Democrats, Catholics, Protestants, white people, black people, gay people, straight people—whomever you dislike, have no exposure to, don’t agree with, or fear.
Let’s say, for example, that you don’t like a particular member of Congress (that’s a pretty safe bet given how low their approval rating generally is).
When you think of this person, you probably have negative feelings about them based on their political party, their policy ideas, and the legislation they have voted for.
So far, fine—there’s nothing wrong with profoundly disagreeing with someone else’s ideology.
But what we tend to forget is that this Congressperson is much more than his or her votes and political ideas.
This person is a child, and probably also a spouse and a parent. He likes fishing and football and science fiction, or she likes knitting and her grandkids and superhero movies. (Or better yet, he likes knitting and she likes football.)
We don’t want to see the people we dislike in three dimensions, because that would humanize them.
We would start to find that we have things in common with them, and then it wouldn’t be quite so comfortable to hate them.
But Jesus won’t do that, and if we take him seriously, he won’t let us do it either.
We have to stop and think about what it would be like if we were someone in a Galilean town who had been suffering from an incurable illness for years, and then someone named Judas Iscariot came along and offered to heal us.
Would we say yes?
Would you let Judas heal you?
Not if he’s only Judas the Betrayer to you.
Not if she’s only Elizabeth the Democrat or Mitch the Republican to you.
Not if he’s only Ahmed the ISIS soldier or Tyler the U.S. soldier to you.
Not if she’s only Mary the atheist or John the bible-thumper to you.
Not if he’s only Margaret your hated mother-in-law or Brad the jerk who slept around on you.
The truth is that we can only receive healing from the people and places we open ourselves to, the people we’re willing to make ourselves vulnerable to, the people we see in greater depth and complexity than their greatest weaknesses, failures, and fallibilities.
The truth is that sometimes Jesus does send Judas to heal us, and it’s up to us whether he is successful or not.
Because of course we have to remember that we’re all essentially Judas the Healer.
Any time we’re being honest we can admit that we’re Judas the Betrayer.
How many times a day, how many times an hour, do we betray and deny Jesus by betraying and denying his presence in our neighbors?
But because we’re so in love with our black-and-white thinking, we are always casting ourselves as the villain or the hero.
We’re either wallowing in shame as the Betrayer, or patting ourselves on the back as the noble Disciples.
The truth, as it so often does, lies in the messy and uncomfortable middle.
We are the Betraying Disciple, or as Henri Nouwen puts it, the Wounded Healer.
And here we come back to the most fundamental dynamic to this text: trust.
Jesus trusts Judas to take up power and go out and heal people.
And our response to Jesus’ trust needs to be taking the risk to trust him back.
That means trusting the Judases in our lives to bring us healing if and when they are able to respond to God’s call in their hearts.
That means we have to be willing to see them as more than their mistakes, as deeper than their sins, as having potential outside and beyond whatever they did to hurt us.
If they are willing to be vulnerable enough to channel God’s grace, we have to be vulnerable enough to risk receiving it and also risk getting hurt again.
That’s what it means to believe that love wins in the end.
And what will give us the courage to say yes when a Judas shows up offering healing, offering renewed relationship, offering good news?
Living into our own identity as Judas the Healer.
It takes courage and faith to accept that Jesus trusts us as Judas, in our weakness and failure and in the sure knowledge that we will betray him, probably in the not-too-distant future.
When we are feeling at our least capable, our most poverty-stricken in spirit, Jesus can and will send us out to be healers on his behalf, possibly even to the people we ourselves have betrayed.
Jesus never asks for perfect vessels, only willing ones.
And so even as he trusts us, Judases all, we must trust that he sees us fully and truly and worthy in our brokenness to heal in his name.
Jesus has given us our marching orders. “As you go, proclaim the good news, ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. You received without payment; give without payment.”
These are the words he says to Judas Iscariot, the Judas we see so easily in others and the Judas we know in our own hearts.
But from here on out, we have the uncomfortable yet liberating knowledge that Judas the Betrayer is also Judas the Healer.
Trusting Jesus in this risky place, where we need him more than ever, transforms lives.
It makes possible the words that first disciples brought back to Jesus after he sent them out: “Lord, in your name even the demons submit to us!”
What a nasty shock that Judas the Betrayer whom we have always demonized may actually be the humble and fallible means of driving out our demons of prejudice, hatred, and self-isolation.
Paradoxes like these are one way we receive the Good News of Jesus Christ, and it is destabilizing, demanding, and glorious.
In other words, it has the familiar flavor of grace.
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