By: Rev. Fr. Sylvanus AMEH
Readings: Acts 1:15-17, 20-26; Psalm 103; I John 4:11-16; John 17:11-19
“None of those you gave me has been lost, except the son of perdition…his place, let another take”
The above quotation is taken from the prayer of Jesus before his arrest and the speech of Peter before the election of Mathias to fill in the space of Judas Iscariot. It is interesting how the first reading and gospel of today’s Mass make mention of Judas; our reflection therefore, shall focus on lessons to be learnt from the tragedy of Judas. Judas was a tragic example of lost opportunity and an embodiment of wasted privilege. His biggest tragedy was that he could have been Saint Judas, but for his greed. We shall look at about three lessons.
- Right after the ascension of Jesus, as the disciples returned to the room where they hid, the first thing they did a few days later was to find a replacement for Judas who betrayed Jesus. This is primarily because nature abhors a vacuum, and nothing must be left to be in void. So Peter, in his speech, quotes Psalm 109:8, “His place, let another take.” Judas lost his position, first by his betrayal of Jesus, and secondly and eternally, by committing suicide. In this “act” of the apostles, we ought to take a lesson for our lives too, that even concerning us, nature will not tolerate a vacuum. So, if there is any position we occupy in life, a space we fill, we must not create a vacuum in it, else, someone else will replace us, after all, no human being is indispensable.
And there is even another angle to this, which is more frightening, and it is the fact of being physically present, especially in the lives of people, yet, in their hearts, our place, another has taken. For instance, some husbands/wives are physically present in the lives of their spouse, but emotionally, another has taken their place. This may not necessarily mean that the other is adulterous, but simply that the space meant for their spouse has been occupied by someone or something else. A wife can replace her husband in her heart with her children; a husband can replace his wife in his heart with his work, etc. Some parents have also been replaced in the hearts of their children by their nannies or school teachers or even neighbors, yet the parents are still physically there. To be replaced while we are still there should frighten us much more than to be replaced when we are gone. Never live your life in such a manner that you no longer exist in the heart of those to whom you should matter a lot.
- Right from the start (Mat 10:4; Lk 6:10) where the names of the apostles were mentioned, Judas was mentioned with a negative adjective to describe him. Through the rest of the gospels, his name was always associated with something negative such as “traitor”, “thief”, “betrayer”. Several times, Jesus gave him subtle warning signs, but he either did not notice or he simply chose to ignore them. Eventually, fired up by his greed, he betrayed his master and lost his exalted position. Sometimes, we too behave like Judas. God gives us a privileged position and we abuse it because of greed. Even when we have allowed greed to take root in our hearts, God often sends us warning signs, but oftentimes, we choose to ignore the signs. Many people have met a shameful end because they were blinded by their greed. In 1 Timothy 6:10, the Bible says “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.” Many families too have been destroyed and marriages wrecked because of the ‘lustful greed’ of one of the spouses which drives them into adulterous relationships. The greatest undoing of Judas was his greed and today, we remember him with a negative feeling. Given the opportunities and privileges that we have from God, how shall we be remembered when we are no more? Kill your greed before it kills you!
- When Judas lost his position, there was the need to fill it; hence, Peter addressed this need with the other disciples as we heard in the first reading. To find a suitable candidate for this exalted position, only one criterion was put forth by Peter: the person must have faithfully followed Jesus right from the time of his baptism up to the time of his ascension. Mathias and Joseph met the qualifications. This implies that even when Jesus chose the 12 Apostles from among his many disciples in Luke 6:12-16, Mathias and Joseph were there, but Jesus did not choose them. Yet, they were faithful to Jesus and still followed him everywhere! So he who was not chosen at the start was elevated because of his faithfulness. Indeed, God is a faithful God and he rewards faithfulness; that is why the Bible says in Proverbs 28:20 that “A faithful man will abound with blessings” and in Proverbs 3:3-4, scripture says “Do not let steadfast love and faithfulness forsake you…for that is how you will find favor and good success in the sight of God and man.”
Sometimes, we may just be the cause of our own misfortunes; we may just be the very reasons why the blessings of God keep passing us by because we are not always faithful. Some people are not persevering enough to wait on God for their elevation; they move from church to church, job to job, business to business, relationship to relationship, never stable, never patient, never faithful. Before God will finish packaging his blessings for them, they have changed base, they have moved, so they start all over again. The nature of God is stable, unchanging. God is faithful to his nature (cf. Malachi 3:6 and Hebrews 13:8) and he expects us too to be faithful, consistent, persevering, unwavering. The faithfulness of Mathias to Jesus, even when he was not chosen to be among the 12 Apostles, finally merited him a place in the ranks of the apostles. We too must learn and practice faithfulness. Remember, faithfulness will find you favor and good success in the sight of God and man.