The Strangest of Gifts

Socrates is reported to have said that “the unexamined life is not worth living.”

Judas' conscience - G.E Nikolaj (1891)

Any honest self-examination knows that to be human is to experience betrayal. We betray and we are betrayed.

Would it help to think of God as being closer to our betrayals than we ever dare to be?

Would it help, perhaps, to see your betrayal of others and your self-betrayals, as scenes in a drama with many different scenes and acts, a drama bigger than betrayal?  A drama of One who knows our nature. Our fears. Our dashed hopes. Our un-trustworthiness. The side of us so ugly that we dare not look it in the eye – the side that, for thes moment, cannot imagine the larger dramatic piece and the hopeful theme we have forsaken: the persistence of love, of forgiveness, of life out of death, the resurrection of love itself…here and now…not just then and there.

There are two traditions about Judas, disciple of Jesus whose betrayal has been handed down across the ages, the scapegoat Betrayer we don’t want to be.

According to the first story In Matthew, “when Judas, [Jesus’]  betrayer, saw that [Jesus] was condemned, he repented and brought back the thirty pieces of silver…and throwing down the pieces of silver…he departed; and he went and hanged himself.”  The first story puts Judas at the end of his own noose. But there’s an altogether different tradition according to which Judas exploded from within while walking across a field. In this story, the Betrayer is a walking dead man, walking with such self-hatred – a self-loathing so profound – that he could not live with himself, and as he was walking, “all his bowels gushed out” (Acts of the Apostles 1:18).

A few of us have attempted suicide. Most of us have not  All of us, if we’re honest, know something of what it’s like to walk through life with unsettled stomachs and intestines. The prescriptions we take for upset stomachs or roiling bowels cannot touch the issue of betrayal when we have betrayed or have been betrayed.

But – stay with me a moment longer -here’s the thing I’ve come to see. The word for “gift” in New Testament Greek is didomi. The word most often translated “betrayal” is paradidomi – to give over –  para (over or across) and didomi (gift). Tradition is handing over the gift from one generation to the next.

Interesting…strange, even…that these words are so closely related. In Christian tradition, Jesus is the great Gift. Judas, the Betrayer, unwittingly passes on the gift, gives the gift over, hands the gift over… to the authorities…and to us…with a kiss.

With Judas’ kiss the story of Jesus the betrayed becomes OUR story: the story of the Betrayer and the Betrayed, the tradition handed over to us across the millenia.

Betrayal Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL, 2012

J. seemed a friend–he chose to join the group.

We trusted him.  We let him keep the purse

we held in common.  We would meet for supper

often–yes, our hands would touch, we’d curse

the same opponents, be amazed and shake

our heads at miracles.  We later learned

he stole, and made a secret deal to take

the silver from the Priests–from grace he turned

to greed.

Soon after,  he was overcome

with shame:  he threw the money at their feet.

J. left us then, he had himself to blame

and took his life:  Disciple of Defeat.

The greatest miracle of all he’d miss

because he betrayed Jesus with a kiss.

Betrayal is not the most importance scene in life. Stick around for the next scenes and acts that transform the laments of examined lives into anthems to the One who is closer to our betrayals than we ever dare to be. The examine life is worth living.

8 thoughts on “The Strangest of Gifts

  1. Although you examined the subject of betrayal through a relgious lens (which I’m somewhat familiar with but don’t often use), I noted how my recent discovery of a new project feels like a more outward examination of part of my life. What I see as betrayals during a certain period, my own and those of others, seems to inform what I’ve written so far (even with its sometimes humorous view.) The idea for this project not only came up for me at a difficult time but appears to be trying to save parts of me that I thought I was losing.

    I’m still holding on, even there’s so much I have to do before I can plunge into this new work fully. But it helps to see that someone else sees the value of the examined life and (if I read your piece correctly) the wisdom and value of the forgiveness it can lead to.


  2. Gordon, I keep thinking and wondering how we often scapegoat Judas. Is treason for silver worse than denial(betrayal) or keeping quiet for the sake of a congenial coffee hour? thank u and Steve for your good words which always, for me, send me into examining my living and my life.


  3. Betrayal as a part, not the whole. God IN the betrayals with us, whether we are the betrayee, or betrayor.

    It appears to me that God simply will not be contained by that horrible, corrosive element – shame. In my experiences as an individual and in my work, I have found shame the most debilitating. Being a betrayor is terribly shaming. Being the betrayee is devastating, but less shaming.

    Betrayal, from either side, is terribly painful because of the relationship that is damaged. One cannot be betrayed by a stranger or casual acquaintance. It is the beloved ones whose betrayals leads to such devastation, shame, soul-searching. Stranger betrayal creates anger. Loved one betrayal breaks a heart, probably both hearts.

    What I hear, Gordon, is that such betrayal truly is reconcilable. I believe that is so. I also hear that reconciliation is not necessary with God, for God did not allow that relationship to ever be broken.

    This is good, and I needed to hear it today. Your blog helps strengthen my faith because you are willing to delve into the darkest, most deeply hidden, shameful places in the human heart. That is so anti-exceptionalism and beautifully Christian. You do these profound acts kindly and gently, enabling me, and others like me, to enter such places in ourselves. I am grateful.


    • You’re tood kind. Thank you for your reflection. Shame runs deep. Only a love with a very long reach can get to it. And, thank God, the gospel is that love’s reach is that long.


  4. That is very powerful. Thank you. How many times have I felt like I let myself down, and failed – once again. But you are right – it is the EXAMINED life that is worth living. Today, after grazing the side of my car on a cement pole in the parking garage on my way to work, I have been wallowing in unexamined self-pity. I will try to remember that it is the examined life that is worth it – not this unexamined day and I will try to use that reminder to pull myself up by my boot straps!


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