Have you ever wondered why Judas betrayed Jesus? Like the other Eleven he was chosen by the Lord; he heard the same instruction, saw the miracles, and experienced all the love that the others Apostles did. It was not even his betrayal that made him different. Peter sinned too, and in much the same way as Judas. Both men came to recognise their sin and admitted it. Judas plainly declared: I have sinned ... I have betrayed innocent blood (Mtt 27:4).
So, faced by their misdeeds, why did Peter weep and Judas hang himself?
In today's Gospel Jesus tells us twice that he is the good shepherd. He lays down his life for his sheep and he knows his own (sheep). Then he adds: and my own know me.
The more you reflect on this little phrase the more puzzling it becomes. What does it mean to know Jesus? Do you know Jesus? Do I know Jesus? Does it mean that we have met him, seen him, heard him? How can we, who have been practising Catholics for many years know for certain that we know Jesus?
It seems to me that if we can answer this question not only will we grow in our own understanding of the Faith but we might also get deeper insight into Judas' despairing response to that painful, final encounter with his own guilt.
Remember last Sunday's second reading? St John tells us: We can be sure that we know God only by keeping his commandments. This is the answer to our question, 'How can we know for certain that we know Jesus?'
I noticed the other day someone has already been carving things into our new pews. I feel tempted to sneak in some night and carve these words on each pew in the church: We can be sure that we know God only by keeping his commandments. And in case you missed the point St John puts it again in another way: Anyone who says, 'I know him', and does not keep his commandments is a liar, refusing to admit the truth. Strong words! I even considered whether I should quote them. I wondered why St John found it necessary to speak so strongly and I am guessing that even in his day, only a few decades after the death of Jesus, there was already in vogue the nonsense, spoken by foolish people, that we still hear everywhere today.
- I know Jesus but I live with my girlfriend or my boyfriend.
- I know Jesus but I use contraception.
- I know Jesus but abortion is ok.
- I know Jesus but I live in a gay relationship.
Do you notice these sins are all habitual? This means they are not the sins we commit and confess with shame and contrition and a purpose of amendment. Of these sins St John told us last week: ...if anyone should sin, we have our advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ .. he is the sacrifice that takes our sins away. The sins I mentioned are not like that. They are ongoing and deliberate, springing out of attitudes directly opposed to the commandments of God. People who live like this cannot be said to know God (yet). And they should not kid themselves about this or they will remain in their sin.
Judas was an habitual thief and a liar; he lied to himself as much as to others. His dishonesty is apparent in his pretence at the Last Supper when Jesus, the Truth and the Life, told the Apostles that one of them was about to betray him. Judas, well aware of his intentions and with chilling hypocrisy, simulated innocence: Not I, Rabbi, surely?
Sadly, for all his years spent in the Lord's company, Judas did not know Jesus. He had habitually failed to keep his commandments. When the moment of raw insight arrived and he saw his crime for what it was, he despaired. Mercy and forgiveness from his loving Master was not an option for him; he just did not know Jesus.
Without a doubt, what St John says in his Gospel (Jn 17:3) is true: And eternal life is this: to know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.