Matthew 26: 25: Judas, who betrayed him, said, “Surely not I, Rabbi?” He replied, “You have said so.” 47-50a: While he was still speaking, Judas, one of the twelve, arrived; with him was a large crowd with swords and clubs, from the chief priests and the elders of the people. Now the betrayer had given them a sign saying, “the one I will kiss is the man; arrest him.” At once he came up to Jesus and said, “Greetings Rabbi!” and kissed him. Jesus said to him, “Friend, do what you are here to do.”
Judas, synonymous with betrayer, one of the most well known vignettes of the Passion narrative. It’s a story that’s been told and retold but still leaves us with more questions than answers. What motivated Judas to betray Jesus? Was he just greedy, wanting the 30 silver coins? Was he upset that Jesus wasn’t the revolutionary, violent radical that he’d been expecting? And what caused Judas’ change of heart after he had turned Jesus over to the high priests? He gave back the coins and killed himself well before he saw Jesus being tortured. What would have prompted so quick a guilt reaction?
Judas was one of the twelve. He was one of the ones that had given up everything to follow Jesus. We don’t know much about Judas’ life before he became one of the twelve. In the Matthew narrative there isn’t a separate “calling story” like we have for some of the other disciples. Judas wasn’t one of the inner circle and it seems that the times he is mentioned alone it’s usually in a negative context. Of course, we know that the stories were written down much later than the actual events, so Judas’ “untrustworthiness” could have been written into the story because the writer had the luxury of knowing how things turned out. We do get the information that he was in charge of the money for the group so obviously he was trusted to do that job.
It’s easy to demonize Judas. He’s a betrayer. He’s a jerk. There’s nothing good in him. It’s harder to wonder why he felt the need to betray; what motivated him to turn Jesus in. They should have been on the same side. They should have had common ground. But yet Judas betrays.
When I began to transition I expected I would feel affinity with transgender people everywhere and even with the lesbian, gay, and bisexual community. After all we were on the same team. We had the same experience and we were facing the same challenges. The same people opposed us. I quickly realized, though, that some of the people I thought would be on the same side as me had the hardest time with my transition. And because I had expected them to be on my team, their rejection was some of the hardest to take.
There were times when I would go on gay or lesbian websites and read some of the most horrific comments about transgender people. Comments full of transphobia and hatred. And I would wonder how people who were also oppressed could say such horrid things. Before I realized I was trans I had been a part of the gay and lesbian community; I still felt some affinity for that community and yet here they were saying such mean things.
And then there are the debates within the transgender community. Debates on whether or not one should seek medical transition, debates about whether to be out as transgender, debates over who belongs in what spaces, etc. etc. etc. It was exhausting, sometimes, to feel like I had to defend myself within my own community. To feel alienated from cisgender people (especially in the very visible parts of transitioning) and yet to also feel alienated from a community that I had expected to give me support and comfort.
Why do we turn on one another this way? Why can’t we get past our own experience to realize that other people have to live out their process? Why must we judge one another? These aren’t easy questions to answer. It would be easier to just cast out the idea of community: Well, if the gays and lesbians don’t want me in their club then I’ll just start my own! Who cares about their oppression since they don’t care about mine! You can see some of that in the debates happening about “don’t ask, don’t tell” in the military. The repeal of DADT won’t do anything for transgender people; it’s a totally separate piece of military law that prevents transgender people from serving and yet some trans people are being very public in protesting in favor of the repeal. They are able to see that oppressions intertwine and that they need to speak up. But there are others who say, “why bother”? It’s the same with the employment non-discrimination act (ENDA) and whether or not gender identity should be included. A couple of years ago there was a very vocal contingent of gay and lesbian people who wanted transgender protections excluded because it would make it easier for the law to get passed, and yet there were some who realized that oppression is oppression and we should all be working together.
What should our response be when our own community turns on us? We never get to see a moment of reconciliation between Jesus and Judas. At the same time, even in the garden, Jesus was gentle with Judas. Maybe Jesus realized Judas had his own issues to work out and that judging him wouldn’t make it any better. My initial response when I am hurt by members of the trans community is to be defensive, to recoil, to state my position and defend my right to my own path. But then I have to step back and take a moment. I realize that my right to my own path can only be assured by everyone having that freedom. For me I needed to medically transition and then to live as male. For others they need to challenge the binary. There needs to be space for all of us. We need to make space for one another. We need to forgive and be gentle with one another realizing that we are all walking a path and that path is hard.
Judas couldn’t bear to be a part of a community that didn’t fit exactly what he wanted. By doing so he cut himself off from support. He didn’t give Jesus the chance to forgive him. In the end, the only person he really hurt was himself.