People of God Do Extraordinary Things: May 22, 2022

May 23, 2022

 Year C, Easter 6                                                                  John 14:23-29                                                                                        

            Poor Judas (not Isacriot)—he gets one line, one recognition in the whole Gospel and the author feels the need to call him not by his full name, but Judas (not Iscariot).  In the Gospel of Luke, he has a full name—Judas, son of James.  In Mark and Matthew, his name is actually changed to Thaddeus.  Here in the Gospel of John, he is labelled not as who he is, but who he is not.   It’s understandable.  This scene comes right after Judas Iscariot left Jesus and the other disciples and went off to betray him.  It also comes right after Jesus predicts Peter’s denial.  Talk about and a tense meal.

And it wasn’t just tense, it was incredibly sad. Jesus had been trying to tell his disciples about his impending death for quite some time.  It wasn’t like he just sat them down for this one special dinner and laid it all out.  He had been preparing them, probably for years.  They were told it was coming, but they didn’t know when or how.  They probably hadn’t completely accepted it.   But Jesus knew.  Jesus knew he would soon die a horrible death. He would be denied, betrayed and abandoned by some of the people who he had been closest to. 

We don’t actually know what happened to Judas (not Iscariot) after Jesus was arrested.  We know he didn’t do anything horrible like Peter or Judas Isacariot.  He probably just hid with the rest of the disciples.  Because we know so little, Judas (not Iscariot) can sort of be a blank slate for us.  We might even imagine ourselves as him.  Have you ever been labeled for someone you are not rather than the person you are?

            When I have imagined Jesus telling his disciples not to let their hearts be troubled and not to be afraid, I imagined him saying these words with confidence and authority.  Isn’t that how we normally picture Jesus?  But as I studied this text and looked at where it fell in the story, I wondered if that was really the case.  Jesus was not one to hide his emotions.  He wept when we was mourning his friend.  He threw things when he was upset that people were taking advantage of the poor in the temple.   I would think it was incredibly hard for him to tell them not to be troubled, not because he wasn’t confident, but because he knew how hard it would be for them to believe and not be afraid.

            Before he tells them not to let their hearts be troubled and not to be afraid, he said, “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you.  I do not give to you as the world gives.”  Obviously we cannot know what the disciples were thinking when he said that.  But put yourself in their shoes (or sandals) for a moment.  Think of Judas (not Iscariot).  You have given up your life to follow this man.  You have seen him do incredible miracles. You have seen him raise the dead.  He has loved every person he has encountered, especially those who all others considered unlovable.  He has loved you unconditionally.  You believe he is God and will save the world.  But now he has told you he has to die a horrible death.   Then he tells you he will be betrayed and denied—maybe by you.  Then he gives you his peace.  His peace.  Would that bring you comfort? 

            Notice how he differentiates the peace that he gives from the peace of the world.  It was about 30 AD which was part of the 200 year period known as Pax Romana.  It was a period of relative tranquility in the Roman Empire, which meant there were no major wars.  The Roman Empire protected and governed individual provinces, allowing them to administer their own laws as long as they accepted Roman taxation and military control. Peace came at a price. Roman authorities would often violently crush any perceived opposition or threat to their rule.  It’s one of the reasons that Jesus was killed.  They were worried he would create an insurrection.  They crushed him and others to maintain peace. This was what people perceived as peace at the time…a lack of war. 

While we aren’t living in the Roman Empire, in many ways we perceive peace the same way, a lack of conflict, or lack of conflict immediately surrounding us.  But we don’t have to look to the Ukraine for examples of conflict. It is everywhere.  We saw it in a dramatic and deeply disturbing way in Buffalo a week ago. We see violence in our own small city. I wish that crime and hate was an anomaly, but it’s not.  This world has never known peace—whether we define it as the absence of conflict or something more holistic.  However, just because the world doesn’t know peace, doesn’t mean that we (Christians) cannot know peace.

I know that the disciple’s hearts were deeply troubled when Jesus was taken away by men with swords, and then whipped and crucified.  How could they not?  But that was not the end of the story.  Jesus was resurrected.  He returned to them and when he did, the first thing he said was, “Peace be with you.”  Because peace isn’t a one and done thing.  Even though Jesus tried to give it to them, he knew they would need more than the gift.  They would even need more than his resurrection and assurance.  They would need someone to come along side them and be with them as they attempted to carry the peace of God with them. 

He said to them, “The Advocate, The Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.” The word translated to advocate means, “one called to the side of.”  It is also translated to counselor and comforter.   The Holy Spirit reminds us of what Jesus said then and what he continues to tell us now. The Holy Spirit counsels us when we cannot make sense of what Jesus says.  And the Holy Spirit can comfort us when it feels that all is lost and peace is elusive at best.    

No one knows exactly what happened to Judas (not Iscariot).  Because he isn’t named in two of the Gospels, some believe he changed his name to Thaddeus.  It wasn’t unusual for someone to go by multiple names in the Bible.  Jesus loved changing people’s names. Judas was a very common name before Judas Iscariot made it the least popular name in the world.  It meant praise.

 I like to think that Judas did change his name to Thaddeus, which means heart or courage.   Because that is what Jesus was asking his disciples in this text, days before his death. “Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.”  We are living in a terrifying time right now.  Personally, I feel the fear profoundly.  I don’t think we all need to change our names.  That would just get confusing, but I do think it’s time to embrace the heart and courage of those early disciples.  They were able to build a church and spread the Gospel, not because they were full of confidence and had resources.  They did it because they believed in the gift that Jesus had given them, the gift of the Holy Spirit. We still have that gift!!  So why do we act like we don’t?  Why do we Christians act like beleaguered players of the losing team in the final quarter?  We have the same gifts that the early disciples had. We don’t need to define ourselves by what or who we are not. No, we are not the church we were in 1965.  No, we don’t have to add chairs in the aisles for Christmas or Easter.

Photo by Nick Fewings 

We must let go of those memories and embrace the new people, the new church we can become.  People with big hearts and deep compassion, people who love this city and the people of this city, people who always want to feed the hungry, people who make music even with masks on, people who consume the body and blood of Christ any way they can, people who sing outside people’s windows when they cannot come out….the people of God.  Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.  You are not who you once were. You are not your mistakes or misdeeds.  You are the people of God.  And the people of God do extraordinary things.