This weekend marks the seventy-seventh anniversary of the German surrender in World War II. The German High Command surrendered to the Allies on May 7; the following day, Hitler’s named successor Karl Donitz signed an unconditional surrender. Russia celebrates May 9 as the day of victory. Hitler had committed suicide on April 30; the German high command realized that they no longer needed to fear Hitler. People danced in the streets of London, Paris, and New York. I still have The Washington Post from May 9, 1945, stating that the most massive war in human history had finally ended. The terrible Nazi occupation of so much of Europe was over.
Retribution in Europe was swift. In some countries Nazi collaborators were murdered, their families hounded; the French, always with an eye towards detail, shaved the heads of women who had slept with Nazi soldiers even if only to save their own families. In the Netherlands where many had hidden Jews from the Nazis at risk to their own lives, Pastor Krijn Strijd advocated just and humane treatment of the Dutch who had worked with the Nazis as a moral responsibility of Christians committed to forgiveness.
Although we are not a physically occupied country, we certainly are still an emotionally occupied one. We are beset by fears we have concerning terrorism, immigrants, and even naturalized U.S. citizens. Emerging from the Covid-19 pandemic we still fear a resurgence. School Board members fear parents frenzied by inaccurate information regarding what is actually taught in classrooms about race and sexuality.
Judas, not Iscariot, as the text says, asks Jesus how he will manifest himself to the world and the response is pretty straightforward. Those who love him keep his words and commandments, the chief of which as he said in last week’s reading, to love one another. Judas, the one called Iscariot, had already left on Jesus’ command to set up his handing over to the authorities who would put him to death.
We have always been puzzled by Iscariot, the one member of Jesus’ group who was probably a revolutionary of the sort who with other scicari carried a knife to kill the hated Roman occupier. Scholars are conflicted over his identity; the Gospels use him as little more than a foil. The kiss of Judas is the chief symbol of betrayal.
How do we deal with betrayal? What should our allegiances be? These questions do not have easy answers. Motivated by his disgust with slavery and the Mexican War, the one that constituted an invasion of the Spanish Southwest, Thoreau argued in his essay “Civil Disobedience,” that people should not permit governments to overrule or atrophy their consciences and that people have a duty to avoid such acquiescence to enable the government to make them the agents of injustice. Gandhi and King both used this concept to bring about enormous change in their idea of nonviolent direct action.
But what happens if nonviolence doesn’t work? This, of course, was the role of Judas, the one called Iscariot. Not there to hear John’s Gospel version of Jesus’ final words, Judas must have passionately believed that upon the crucifixion the Kingdom would somehow divinely materialize.
Poor Judas. Although the non-canonical books about Judas provide us with some insight here, what’s clear is that he didn’t get the real import of Jesus’ message, which is to return hate with love, violence with nonviolence, and exclusion with inclusion. Yes, even the hated Romans, brutal occupiers of Palestine, are included in Jesus’ vision of peace and reconciliation just as the Israeli settlers and army are included as worthy of forgiveness in today’s occupied West Bank.
Today is Mother’s Day and it’s not too farfetched to categorize mothers as the ones who are always there and ready to forgive no matter what. Working with people in prison will really show you how far a mother is willing to go to forgive what her son or daughter has done. When I was in Connecticut helping to organize buses to Somers State Prison for visits, it was the mothers of even the most violent criminals who took their grandchildren to visit their fathers when wives and girlfriends would not. Moms just never, never give up. The twentieth century Russian poet Yevgeny Vinokurov wrote even of Judas’ mother:
His mother wept so bitterly
As Judas hung from the pine tree,
You should have seen the tears of a mother,
She cried and they could not calm her.
She kissed the blue legs of Judas her son.
Why did these people destroy my son?
That sense of a mother’s pain transcends all purported evil even as we think of a man named Judas. Jesus offers us a vision of forgiveness and reconciliation in the words, Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you.
For sure, not as the world gives for our society demands vengeance in the name of “justice” and retribution rather than reconciliation. But really tough questions remain. How do we reconcile ourselves with those who want no reconciliation? Where is our allegiance and where should it be? It’s easy to talk of allegiances when we morph our allegiance to God into our allegiance to nation, not so easy when they may conflict with each other as they did for Thoreau.
Some felt violence was the way as did John Brown at Harper’s Ferry; others, like King called for nonviolent direct action.
The peace that Jesus has left us is the realization that we can and must reconcile ourselves with others even when we disagree. The way to reconciliation is communication through open and frank discussion of our fears, our dislikes, even our hates. We are called as a community of faith to engage each other in love, not by shutting down but by opening up to each other.
The Holy Spirit given us can help in that process as we listen to each other, discuss our differences of opinion, and learn from each other. For the peace given us is not the peace the world gives but the peace we have in our hearts through love.
Let us pray: Holy One who sent Jesus to teach us a new way of living, let your Holy Spirit breathe care and understanding as we consider your injunction to follow your word above all. Help us to love, care and trust each other enough to reflect your kingdom of love and reconciliation. Amen.