Beyond Betrayal, Beyond Death – Arnel Aquino SJ

Matthew 26:14-25, Holy Wednesday

Did you ever wonder if Judas is in heaven or in hell? There’s not been a few times when people have asked if I think Judas is in heaven or in hell—like what I think matters in the whole thing. “He betrayed Jesus and then killed himself, so he must be in hell,” say some. “Yes, but if Judas had not betrayed Jesus, the Lord wouldn’t have gone through passion and death, and not have saved the world.” Now, there’s a couple of things in the second argument that need adjustment. First, it was not only the Lord’s passion and death that saved the world. His entire life and mission saved the world. In fact, even if Jesus had died of natural causes, or died “happy,” his whole life would still have redeemed the world. Second, if Judas is indeed in heaven, it was not his “betrayal” that got him up there. No; God’s forgiveness would put him up there. Salvation is ultimately God’s prerogative. Nobody could entitle oneself to heaven; least of all, a stool pigeon like Judas.

So whether or not Judas is in heaven is an issue that doesn’t have to keep us awake at night. However, the saddest thing about Judas’ betrayal is this: that in spite of his friendship with the Lord who was good to him, in spite of Jesus’ loyalty and confidence in him, despite Jesus’ continued trust, giving him the benefit of the doubt even when everybody knew Judas was stealing from the money-bag—still, there was something the Lord could not reach deep in Judas’ soul, isang napakalalim na bahagi ng pagkatao ni Hudas na hindi maabot-abot ni Hesus, sa kabila ng matalik nilang pagkakaibigan. Yun ang pinakamalungkot.

And I bet, that was because Judas himself did not want to be reached, pure and simple. At some point, he must’ve decided once and for all, that the only master of Judas’ heart and soul and brain would be Judas. It was what he thought that was right, what he decided that was the best. And when you meet people like that, and I’m sure you have, you don’t have to be a psychologist to know that beneath Judas’ refusal to be vulnerable lie the many, many feelings that he forbade himself to feel. Invulnerability gives men the false impression of being in full control over themselves by virtue of what they do not allow themselves to feel—even if the feelings happen to be right there…alive…undeniable…powerful. And from what I’ve noticed, the invulnerable’s greatest enemy is the feeling of deep, tender, expressive love. And if it makes you feel better, there are Jesuits like this. Invulnerable. In control. Masterful.

But Jesus didn’t despair. Typical. Like his good and patient Father, Jesus waited…and I guess, he kept waiting for Judas to come around. And I bet, Jesus continued to do everything he could, to get through to Judas. Why? Because that’s what God does. Ang Dios makulit. He doesn’t honor the no-fly-zones we declare against him. God doesn’t start what he cannot finish in us.

So, Judas started to agonize, frantically regretting his betrayal. That was proof that his hardened heart had begun to fissure. All the egoism, self-absorption, self-entitlement, self-gratification—none of that could stay the eruption of all the feelings he had long forbidden himself to feel. That fatal regret, that rude awakening, that was the sign of God’s “ferocious” affection and friendship and sympathy for “superman Judas”. Abundant love is often God’s kryptonite to weaken the pride of the invulnerable. Sadly, Judas wasn’t used to “divine ferocity” burning with divine gentleness. So he took the last shred of whatever remained of his ego. He tied a noose out of it, strung it around his neck, and hanged himself. And all that time, God must’ve been saying, “No, no, no. Wait. Don’t. Judas, no. I’m not done with you. This isn’t how it’s supposed to end. Wait, we can do this together. Don’t do it.” But it was too late.

Or…was it? Was it too late for Judas? Was his regret too late for God? Would God have looked at his suicide as the most unpardonable sin? As a matter of fact, is anything ever too late for God to save, especially when we can no longer save ourselves? Does God’s “salvation” therefore start and end with human breath, so that when we register a flat-line, then that is also the line that God draws to say, “Where my justice begins is where my mercy ends”? Is that God? Is anything too little, too late for God?

And the answer to that is the Resurrection, dear sisters and brothers. When many thought that Jesus’ cross was the end of everything about him, the Resurrection proved that there is nothing too late for God to save—no, not even upon death. The Resurrection was proof that divine salvation is mightier than sin and death—and for one simple reason: because God loving us is more powerful than we betraying God. Divine love is unimaginably greater than human betrayal. Our willful disloyalties and our self-absorbed suicides—they diminish the meaning of our lives, but not God’s power to save. Never. Never.

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