postheadericon Jesus betrayed – again and again

Jesus betrayed – again and again
Joseph Mattam, S.J.
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We read in the New Testament that Judas, one of the disciples of Jesus, betrayed him. Authors discuss whether this is a historical fact or a theological construct; however, what is sure is that the followers of Jesus, especially those who claim to be the successors of the Apostles, have been continuing to follow the way of Judas down the centuries. They have been betraying Jesus all through the centuries. Out of the thousands of instances, let us recall just a few.

Let me clarify at the outset that this is not an attack on anybody, but an attempt to look honestly at what is happening in the Church that I love. I trust my write-up, even if unpalatable, may be a small contribution towards the renewal of our Church according to the mind and heart of Jesus. 

Jesus had said, calling him Lord was not sufficient (Matt 7.21ff), but we must do the will of the Father; which shows that for Jesus orthopraxis was more important than orthodoxy. Jesus said quite simply that we are all sisters and brothers, one family of equals (Matt 23.8ff); we are to call one another merely brother/sister, and to love one another as Jesus himself has loved us. He said that we have a common Parent whom he called ‘Abba’, unconditionally loving Father. He assured us of his presence with us; he said His Spirit would guide us.  Jesus himself had left hardly any doctrines. He did not teach many truths that need protection; what he said was something to be lived. For the ‘successors of the Apostles’, through the centuries, orthodoxy became so important that they set themselves up as the guardians of the volumes and volumes of doctrines they themselves have produced.  For the sake of orthodoxy, they have been ready to punish by severe torture, excommunication, and - in the past - even death anyone who might deviate from these doctrines. The Inquisition, witch-hunting, murder of sorcerers were all geared to defending the correct doctrine, something to which Jesus, as He is revealed in His “Good News”, had not given any importance.   Is this not a betrayal of Jesus? 

Jesus was very respectful of people’s freedom. He often used the words: “if you want”. The successors have so drastically curtailed the freedom of speech, of thought, of research through severe punishments like withdrawal of license to teach, prohibition to write, excommunication, and - in the past - even murder. Wonder if there is any society where one is so un-free. You may not express any opinion other than what Rome decides is the right position – freedom of a monkey tied to a rope! Is this not a betrayal of Jesus?

Jesus could be challenged. Once he allowed a Syrophoenician woman, a gentile, an impure person according to the Jewish law, possibly an illiterate, poor person to challenge his views and forced him to change his stand (Mk 7.24-30); today no one is allowed even to raise any questions about the successors of the apostles; if you raise questions about what is going on in the Church, or if you raise doubts about a particular non-infallible teaching, you could be excommunicated (late sententiae -automatically)–are these developments not a betrayal of Jesus?

Jesus had told the disciples very clearly more than once that they were not to be like the leaders in the world; they had to be different, the highest had to be the least and Jesus himself had given the example of the foot-washing – the task of a slave. He had insisted that they were all brothers and sisters and they should wash one another’s feet, that they should be slaves to one another freely and that they were not even to call anyone Father or Master. However, what have the ‘successors’ done? Just the opposite of what Jesus wanted by having set themselves up as a hierarchy, and being called Reverend, Lord, Eminence, Excellency, Holiness, which are all part of the empire system, which Jesus had explicitly rejected (Matt 6.24, Mt 20.25-26; 23.7; Lk 11.43; 20.46). What is surprising is that, at the same time, they even call themselves ‘servants’ and go on “prescribing” the same titles in the Annuarium Pontificium and continue to behave like Reverends, Lords, etc. Where is a servant called ‘reverend, lord’, etc?  They have become a class above and apart from the community of believers, “prescribing” and wearing showy, rich, high-profile dress, and claiming to have special powers. It is no longer a difference and hierarchy of charisms, but a hierarchy of dignity and power. Is this not a betrayal of Jesus? 

Jesus gave us the picture of a God who is very near to everyone, especially sinners and the rejected of society. Jesus had thanked his Father for revealing God-self to the little ones (Matt 11.25ff). The ‘successors of the Apostles’ have set up a system in which God looks more like an emperor, inaccessible to the poor and the sinner, who needs mediators both in heaven and on earth. Jesus showed us a God who is near, and did not need any mediation, except the Mediator God sent, namely God’s Son (1 Tim 2.5) and the mediation of love to know him and commune with him. Did not the ‘successors’ betray Jesus?

Jesus’ main teaching was about the love of God for sinners, how God loves and welcomes sinners with a banquet and who is in no way conditioned by our deeds, but by our needs alone (Matt 20.1-15; Lk 15.1-32).  Through his table fellowship, and his rubbing shoulders with the unclean and sinners Jesus had shown God as love: God loves sinners. This God does not demand the sacrifice of his innocent Son. The Romans murdered Jesus because the people had declared him the king of the Jews; the cleansing of the temple and the prediction of its destruction too had political implications; the Jews had reason to get rid of him, as his teachings and life would destroy their religion as they practiced it.  The ‘successors’ interpreted this cruel murder as a sacrifice offered to God who certainly did not demand such a sacrifice. God could never “bless” a murder and demand or even approve of the criminal murder of His most innocent and faithful servant, God’s own Beloved Son.  I am aware that due to texts like Deut 21.23 they had difficulty in understanding the crucifixion of Jesus. Besides, the very early Christians did not have the whole New Testament with them; hence, they continued to interpret the events in the light of the picture of God they had from the OT.  Nonetheless, the “successors”’ later interpretation of it is, to my mind, a betrayal of Jesus.

For Jesus, the remembrance of his life and death was in a simple human gesture of breaking bread in homes in his memory while they continued with their Jewish religious practices. This “breaking of bread” (Acts 2.42) was the distinctive mark of the community; this was a unique gesture of a community of equals expressing their sense of unity, equality, belongingness, friendship, while thereby “giving thanks” (Eucharist) to God, exactly as Jesus had done.  Shared bread and cup were symbols of the Kingdom that he wanted to bring about on earth. The Kingdom is depicted in terms of a banquet (Is 25.6ff; 55.1 ff; Matt 22.1-14; Lk 14.16ff), not a sacrifice. Paul, following Jesus’ teaching, insisted on unity and brotherhood as the requirement for sharing in this ritual (1 Cor 11.17-34); the “successors” set this up as sacrifice offered to God by a priest. Jesus had said that God did not want sacrifice but compassion, mercy and love. Cult was not Jesus’ concern at all.  The Eucharist is the Lord’s Gift to his followers, but many Christians are deprived of it due to the rules and regulations imposed later, like the absolute necessity of a priest. And we all can see how much the Unique Gift of the Master has been “commercialized”, while the sisters and brothers either did not very often even care to attend the “Sacrifice offered by the Priest” at their own request, or could not truly share in it due to imposed multiple regulations.  Is this not a betrayal of Jesus? 

Jesus had spoken of his presence to the community. He had said that when his disciples, reconciled to one another, gather in his name, he would be present to them (Matt 18. 19 ff); he had said that when his disciples responded lovingly and caringly to the needy, hungry, homeless and naked, he would be present (Matt 25. 31 ff). On the cross, once again, he showed where one would find God, namely, in the suffering persons and in responding lovingly to such persons. The disciples, especially the ‘successors’ have built millions of Churches and even rich and artistic tabernacles to preserve Jesus. The Jews of old had tried to fix God in a temple; but the disciples have done better than that.  Would Jesus have wanted this system or, rather, that we build homes for the homeless ‘temples’ of God? Is this not a betrayal of Jesus? The above observation does not mean I am forgetting that the “Reserve” was initially meant for the sick and those who in particularly difficult circumstances were unable to share in the common “Breaking of the Bread”. Nor do I wish to underestimate the value of the divine intimacy and often also of fraternal love fostered by the Eucharistic Presence of Jesus in the Tabernacle, as experienced by countless faithful throughout the centuries. 
In his parable about the Last Judgement, Jesus had said clearly that it was by meeting the needs of the needy that we meet, worship and serve him, but the successors have set up a religious system with thousands of cultic practices. Jesus had said that his Father did not want sacrifices but justice, fidelity and compassion, but the successors insist on offering sacrifice to God, and set themselves up as priests to offer sacrifice to God. Jesus had not called himself or his disciples priests, for by Jesus’ time the term priest had come to mean exclusively one who offers sacrifice to God, a cultic, sacred, set-apart person. If Jesus had spoken of himself or his disciples as priests, he would have completely misguided the community. The term ‘priest’ is not what he had left for the leaders of the community, but ‘servants’- and ‘servants’ are not Reverends, Lords, Eminences, Excellencies, Holiness. Have we not betrayed Jesus?

            Jesus emphasized God’s unconditional love for the sinner. He also insisted that we forgive one another 70 times 7, that we correct one another and help one another to behave well (Matt 18. 15ff).  The ‘successors’ teach and act as if it is  only through a priest that we can receive God’s forgiveness and they claim to have special powers to offer or withhold forgiveness in God’s name (Are not Gospel texts like Mt 16.19, 18.28 and Jn 20.23 being misunderstood and misused? Did Jesus ever appear as withholding forgiveness or postponing it?). I am not questioning the Sacrament of Reconciliation. That is a unique gift of Peace and Joy Jesus left for His Church.  We humans need to feel or experience in a human way (God-in-the-flesh, Incarnation) the invisible yet ever-loving Abba’s forgiveness. We as a Community need to joyfully (not “judicially”) welcome back in our midst a sinful sister/brother. We need to celebrate the “return of the prodigal”, for this Sacrament is to be truly a celebration of the Father’s ever open and embracing arms of love revealed now in this Community through its ministers, who are always “servants” at the service of LOVE. With all the minute prescriptions through the centuries, has the Sacrament been taught and lived in this way? Has not Jesus been betrayed here too? 

            The disciples have double standards. For example, they pick up the idea of the incarnation, which is so fundamental to our faith, from John, but for the founding of the church they prefer Matthew, though John has two clear stories of the founding of the Church (Jn 20.21ff and 21.15ff). If the leaders had followed John in this, we would have had a very different Church from the present one. 

For Jesus salvation was a matter of accepting Jesus (Jn 17.3), of proper and just relationship (Lk 19.1-10), of caring for the needy (Mt 25.31ff); and to become perfect he demanded that we sell everything and give to the poor (Mk 10.21). His followers, especially the successors, would focus on life after death, (as we can see even in very many prayers of the Roman Missal), and they demand that people accept so many doctrines as a necessity for salvation. Jesus had told the teachers of the law, “But woe to you, Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you lock people out of the kingdom of heaven. For you do not go in yourselves, and when others are going in, you stop them” (Matt 23.13-14). Is it justified to make salvation depend on the acceptance of doctrines that the ‘successors’ have themselves formulated,  including even things that Jesus had never even thought of, like the doctrine of original sin, and so many others. Is this not a betrayal of Jesus?

Jesus’ life was characterised by concern for the poor, the unwanted, the least and the last. But the successors’ life would be most often characterised by their unconcern for the needy and the poor, by their siding with the rich and the powerful, as most of them had become rich and powerful. Jesus had advocated ‘the other cheek’. The ‘successors’ would defend “just wars”, torture and (in the past) even murder - all in the name of this Jesus. Have they not betrayed Jesus? I do not ignore the more recent developments in official pronouncements regarding  this area of just wars, etc.

            The Jews had 613 commandments; Jesus summarized the whole lot of them into one commandment   (Matt 22.34ff); the successors would make 1753 laws and in the process forget the one commandment that Jesus gave us. Have they not betrayed Jesus?

These are only few of the areas where, in my frankly expressed opinion, the successors of the Apostles, forgetting authentic Gospel demands, have betrayed Jesus. There are many more areas, where they betray Jesus, but we shall not go into more instances.  I do not deny that the points I have raised above are open to discussion – so let us discuss these. We all need to go back to Jesus and his simple teaching of brotherly/sisterly love and mutual service as equals, and abandon the empire system we have inherited.

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