Was Jesus’ selection of Judas an answer to prayer? (And other follow-up questions)

A reader has asked some follow-up questions to my recent series about Judas.  Here are those questions and my reflections in response.

Q. If the disciples knew that Judas was a thief and stole from their common money bag, wouldn’t Jesus have known also?  And wouldn’t he have reproved Judas and given the money bag to a different disciple to carry?  Wouldn’t he try to teach Judas instead of ignoring a sin everyone else could see? 

It may have been discovered only after the fact that Judas was stealing from the common purse.  John may be speaking in retrospect, with the advantage of hindsight, when he reports, “He did not say this because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it.”  So his theft was not necessarily known to all the disciples, and Jesus not correcting him would not have been regarded as toleration of sin.  But perhaps Jesus had already discerned it, in the way he also figured out beforehand that Judas was planning to betray him.  In that case he may have been giving Judas an opportunity to repent, confess his sin privately, and make restitution, on the principle stated later in the New Testament by his brother James: “Whoever turns a sinner from the error of their way will save them from death and cover over a multitude of sins.”  It seems that when possible, God wants sin to be corrected and confessed privately, so that there are not scandals, and for the sake of the offending person’s more effective future restoration.

Q. Jesus telling Judas, “What you are about to do, do quickly,” shows that Jesus knew his intentions, but it still left room for Judas to repent.  Judas did repent, return the silver, and say he had done wrong.  Why he killed himself instead of seeking forgiveness is another question. 

In my first post in the series about Judas, I agree with you that “Judas did repent, return the silver, and say he had done wrong.”  In that post I observe, “There is open and specific confession of sin, and there is restitution—what John the Baptist once called “fruit worthy of repentance.”  But then I go on to say:  “Unfortunately, the chief priests and elders, whose appointed role was to help shepherd repentant sinners like him back into the fold, turned him away, saying, ‘So what? That’s your problem.’ In order to accept Judas’s confession, they would have had to admit that it was just as wrong for them to have conspired to put Jesus to death, but their pride and vested interests did not allow them to do this. When Judas did not receive the spiritual counsel and restoration that he was seeking and desperately needed, in despair he went out and hanged himself.”  So I think some of the blame truly rests with the chief priests and elders.

Q.  Jesus prayed all night before choosing the  Twelve.  Certainly he was directed by his Father to choose those twelve.  Yet one of them was Judas, who betrayed him.  It is puzzling. 

You’re right, Jesus chose Judas after praying for, and no doubt receiving, guidance from God about which disciples to pick.  That’s why I say in my final post, about whether Jesus “betrayed” Judas, “I think we have to conclude that Jesus chose twelve disciples in good faith, all as potential true followers.”  I think it’s much harder to believe, for reasons I’ve already explained in the series, that God would have  guided Jesus to chose someone specifically so that Jesus would be betrayed by that person.  To me that makes a travesty of the whole process of calling and being set apart for special service—some parts of the Christian church even consider this a sacrament.

In his commentary on Luke, Alfred McBride says this about Jesus’ choice of all the disciples:  “He did not pick perfect candidates, but people with a mixture of talents, flaws, gifts and frailties. They were pilgrims, not saints. They represented a range of human foolishness: vanity, ambition, jealousy, cowardice, doubt, bravado, betrayal, and overreaching. . . . Still, in the end, they proved to be made of the stuff of saints. The Holy Spirit led them to be loving, truthful, brave, loyal, assured, humble, and saintly. Most of them witnessed Christ even to the point of martyrdom. Only one of them failed Christ’s expectations.”  So maybe this is how Jesus’ prayer for guidance before picking his disciples was answered, not with a “perfect candidate” in any individual case, but in every case with people who had genuine kingdom potential.

 

Author: Christopher R Smith

The Rev. Dr. Christopher R. Smith is a writer and biblical scholar who is also an ordained minister. He was active in parish and student ministry for twenty-five years. He was a consulting editor to the International Bible Society (now Biblica) for The Books of the Bible, an edition of the Scriptures that presents the biblical books according to their natural literary outlines, without chapters and verses. His Understanding the Books of the Bible study guide series is keyed to this format. He has an A.B. from Harvard in English and American Literature and Language, a Master of Arts in Theological Studies from Gordon-Conwell, and a Ph.D. in the History of Christian Life and Thought, with a minor concentration in Bible, from Boston College, in the joint program with Andover Newton Theological School.

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