Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Tuesday in the 23rd Week of Ordinary Time (I)
Which Gospel?

Readings: Colossians 2:6-15; Psalms 145:1b-2, 8-9, 10-11; Luke 6:12-19

The twelve apostles chosen by Jesus are not always portrayed in a positive light in the gospels. Especially in Mark’s gospel, for example, they are presented as rather slow and even dimwitted. They simply cannot grasp the truth and significance of the One who had called them. In particular, they cannot comprehend that Jesus, the Christ, the Anointed One, the Messiah, had to suffer (Luke 24:26). All of Jesus’ predictions of his Passion seem to fall upon death ears. Even so, in spite of their lack of understanding, we know that of the twelve apostles, only one actually betrayed Jesus, only one, Judas Iscariot, actually makes a definitive break from the Way marked out for them by Jesus. Although Peter denies Jesus three times, and although all the others, except perhaps for John, run away, they somehow come back to the Lord.

We don’t really know for sure what prompted Judas to become a traitor. The scholars have different opinions. Recently, for example, the controversy surrounding the so-called Gospel of Judas has fueled the argument that Judas was actually the privileged one among the apostles. He was actually asked by Jesus to help him fulfill his mission by betraying him. But this must surely be an unorthodox view, at least in the church, not least because it runs counter to what we find in the NT. Even so, the scriptures don’t quite settle the issue of Judas' motivations. Within limits, different opinions are possible. In one movie on the life of Christ, for example, Judas is portrayed as being disillusioned with Jesus for not being more militant, for not organizing an uprising to drive out the Romans and to restore the land to the Jewish people.

Whatever the particular reason might be, it is not unlikely that it had something to do with what we are warned against in the first reading today: Make sure that no one traps you and deprives you of your freedom by some second-hand, empty, rational philosophy based on the principles of this world instead of on Christ. It’s not too far fetched to imagine that Judas was so scandalized by Jesus’ preaching of the centrality of the cross that he actually responded with betrayal. Of course, the specific philosophy that the writer to the Colossians is referring to is a matter for the scholars to determine. But even if we are not scholars, can we not still identify the various empty, rational philosophies based on the principles of this world that are prevalent in our own day and that are still so capable of leading us to betray Christ?

Isn’t it tempting to believe, for example, in the so-called prosperity gospel that is being popularized in certain Christian circles today? Especially when one gazes with admiration and even envy at the many people getting rich in a booming economy, isn’t it easy to be seduced by the notion that following Christ will necessarily bring us the same kind of wealth that they enjoy? Isn’t it tempting to ignore Jesus’ words regarding the blessing that is due to the poor and the need to deny oneself, to take up one’s cross and to follow him?

Whatever the specific reason for Judas’ betrayal of Jesus, the issue highlights for us the need to remain true to the gospel of Christ, and to be wary of any other gospel, especially those that seem to offer us a way to happiness that bypasses the cross.

Which gospel do we believe in?

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