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’ instructions, but often behave according to the exact opposite of what he’s trying to teach.
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 Evangelist” and “Judas the Healer.”
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?
I, like many of you, have been grappling at a new and deeper level with my identity as Judas the Betrayer as a white American not working hard enough to dismantle racism.
But because we’re so in love with our either/or 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.
I can’t think of a time more apt than here and now for us to receive this text.
We are at a moment of profound transition in the life of Emmanuel and in our life as the wider community.
I’m leaving Emmanuel.
We have lay staff transitioning out.
New clergy and new lay staff will come into your lives.
Emmanuel’s call is changing as the dynamics of pandemic, recession, and racism continue to swirl around us.
And yesterday, in a glorious service that could not be dimmed by either social distancing or the inevitable online technical difficulties, we with God’s grace consecrated The Right Reverend Deon K. Johnson as our bishop.
Joyful change is no less destabilizing than difficult change, and we’ve got a complex mix of both happening right now.
Today, on my last Sunday at Emmanuel, I fully own myself as Judas.
I ask your forgiveness for the times when I’ve been Judas the Betrayer—for the times I didn’t listen well enough, didn’t invest deeply enough, didn’t try hard enough, didn’t love faithfully enough.
And I give thanks if there have been any moments I have been Judas the Healer or Judas the Evangelist in my time here. You certainly have been that for me.
Together we have been flawed, human, and holy, and I am deeply grateful for that.
Paul describes our journey to grace so well in our lesson from Romans that I’m going to read out the whole thing even though we’ve just heard it:
“Since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us. For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person– though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die. But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.”
It’s not heroes who do most of God’s work in the world.
It’s not perfect people who defeat racism or make church community work or save the planet.
It’s folks who try and fail and try again, because they know that beneath their deeds, both good and bad, lie their eternal and beloved souls, redeemed by Christ.
In many ways it hasn’t been an easy year for Emmanuel.
I came into this community when it was in a season of struggle, and more work lies ahead for you in continuing to answer God’s call to you.
But what I found here was a community that fights and fights hard for the congregation that every single one of you loves.
It wouldn’t be so hard if you didn’t care so much, and that is a powerful witness of love in and of itself.
I’m leaving you now, and I’m just a blip on the radar of the long story of the life of Emmanuel Episcopal Church.
But I urge you as one who has been your fellow traveler on the Way for this short time, to cling to the words of Paul: “Suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us.”
And you have blessed me with so many beautiful moments of hope in this last year.
At your hospital beds, in classes we’ve shared together, in meetings and dinners, and most of all, at the altar when we’ve shared communion.
Emmanuel has so many gifts as a congregation, perhaps first and foremost your real thirst for participating in justice.
Mother Jenny and her leadership are a gift to you and to the world, and it has been an honor and a privilege to serve as her associate. Day after day I have witnessed her never-failing commitment to your well-being and her ever-renewed commitment to serve Christ in this place, and it has inspired me. If I could serve with half the integrity and resilience she has, I would consider myself blessed.
It is so clear that Emmanuel, clergy, staff, and congregation, is part of the hope of the world, and that Jesus can and does and will work through you to bring forth a future of redemption and peace.
In an era of newness and change, Jesus has given us our marching orders.
He is sending us out in different directions, and yet as one body of servants who remain bound together in love.
“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 shock that Judas the Betrayer whom we have always demonized may actually be the humble and fallible means of driving out our demons of shame, hatred, and self-isolation.
And what a beautiful liberation that the parts of ourselves we have hidden and hated the most, our own inner Judas, may actually be our conduit to a healing and life-giving ministry that helps transform the world.
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.
Thank you for being a part of God’s grace in my life over the last year. May grace and truth lead you forward in the days to come.
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