web analytics

God Loves Judas

image source

God loves Judas as much as God loves Jesus.

That was an insight I had in my late teens/early twenties as part of growing out of the childhood image of God that had been fed to me of an almighty, all-seeing ogre who was out to catch me out and punish me for whatever I did (or thought!) that was wrong.

The insight came back this week when traditionalist Roman Catholics criticised Pope Francis for having the above painting in his study, a painting of Christ comforting/embracing Judas after Judas’ death.

The criticism was both of the nudity in the image (have they ever been to the Vatican?!) and of the compassionate approach that it images Jesus having in relation to Judas. There is a conviction, on their part, that Judas is in hell and that Pope Francis is heretical in questioning the certainty of that.

I am touched by the image of the compassionate Risen Christ subverting, undoing, and reversing the kiss by which Judas betrayed Jesus; I am touched by the tree in the image which speaks (on the one hand) of the means by which Judas killed himself (in one of the two conflicting versions of his death – Matthew 27:5 and Acts 1:18), and (on the other hand) of this painted tree speaking of the tree (of life, if you will), the cross, on which Jesus died, saying, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” (See Acts 5:30; 10:39).

“The hanging of Judas,” at the Basilica of Saint Mary Magdalene in Vézelay. (JAUFRE RUDEL VIA FLICKR)

The contemporary painting at the top of this post connects with the capital (shown immediately above) in the 12th Century Benedictine Abbey Church of Sainte-Marie-Madeleine, Vézelay. Pope Francis writes of this sculpture:

The men of the Middle Ages did catechesis through architecture, sculptures, images. On one side of the capital is Judas after he hanged himself, but on the other is the Good Shepherd lifting him onto his shoulders and taking him with him.

Our Father: Reflections on the Lord’s Prayer (2017)

There are various images of “hell” in the Bible, many refer to Jerusalem’s actual burning rubbish dump, an image used as a Middle Eastern metaphorical hyperbole. The Christian imagery of hell that developed stresses our human freedom to reject God, goodness, truth, and beauty. The obsession of many traditionalist Roman Catholics (as well as other Christians) with the idea that the majority of people are destined for God-created eternal suffering, fanned into fanatical flames by pronouncements of so-called “visionaries”, is a worldview that is rightly rejected as unpalatable by people whose atheism, sadly, is assured and confirmed by such perspectives – an all-powerful, all-knowing deity creates thinking-feeling humans and a place where they will experience never-ending excruciating torture; and knows that that is where the majority will end up!

It appears driven by Stage 1 of moral development: doing the right thing for fear of punishment.

Actually, Lent is a great time to bring together our deepening appreciation of our profound sinfulness, of the evil of which I am capable and have actually done AND God’s profound love of us, of me; two sides of the Lenten coin profoundly, movingly expressed in the above painting.

God loves Judas as much as God loves Jesus.

For further reading: Judas and the scandal of mercy (the meaning of the words on the painting at the top) Losservatore Romano article.

Do follow:

The Liturgy Facebook Page
The Liturgy Twitter Profile
The Liturgy Instagram 
and/or sign up to a not-too-often email

Similar Posts:

2 thoughts on “God Loves Judas”

  1. Chase M. Becker

    Some years ago during Holy Week I saw a placard near the entrance of Chester Cathedral with the following poem that has been a source of much reflection for me:

    The Ballad of the Judas Tree
    by Dorothea Ruth Etchells

    In Hell there grew a Judas Tree
    Where Judas hanged and died
    Because he could not bear to see
    His master crucified
    Our Lord descended into Hell
    And found his Judas there
    For ever hanging on the tree
    Grown from his own despair
    So Jesus cut his Judas down
    And took him in his arms
    “It was for this I came” he said
    “And not to do you harm
    My Father gave me twelve good men
    And all of them I kept
    Though one betrayed and one denied
    Some fled and others slept
    In three days’ time I must return
    To make the others glad
    But first I had to come to Hell
    And share the death you had
    My tree will grow in place of yours
    Its roots lie here as well
    There is no final victory
    Without this soul from Hell”
    So when we all condemned him
    As of every traitor worst
    Remember that of all his men
    Our Lord forgave him first

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Notify me of followup comments via e-mail. You can also subscribe without commenting.