What If Judas Had Waited?

December 19th, 2012

When Judas, his betrayer, saw that Jesus was condemned, he repented and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders. He said, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.” But they said, “What is that to us? See to it yourself.” Throwing down the pieces of silver in the temple, he departed; and he went and hanged himself. (Matthew 27:3-5 NRSV)

Several years ago I had the chance to visit the place tradition says Judas hung himself. The field, known as Potter’s Field or the Field of Blood, overlooks the Valley of Hinnom—Gehenna. Gehenna served as the city trash dump in the time of Christ and, owing to the constant fires that burned the rubbish there, came to be synonymous with hell. On the site of this field are the ruins of a twelfth-century Crusader church and a host of discarded tombs in the side of the rock outcropping. And there, in the middle of the field, is a lone tree, a reminder that when Judas came to this place, overwhelmed with guilt over having betrayed Christ, he hanged himself.

As I stood at the tree, a thought came to me: “What if Judas had waited three days?”

Many people, at some point, think of ending their lives. For most, the thought is momentary and fleeting. For others, who are overwhelmed by guilt, depression, or pain, the thought lingers. Tragically, a few will conclude that death offers the only way out.

Judas was one of these few. He had betrayed Christ. His friend would die for his betrayal. He felt there was no other way out. Yet I could not stop thinking, “If only he had waited three days.” Had he waited, he would have seen Christ risen from the grave. He would have known that even his betrayal was not the final word. He could have fallen at Jesus’ feet and cried out, “Lord, forgive me!” And what do you think Jesus would have said to Judas? Can there be any doubt that Jesus would have shown mercy to him?

Imagine what would have become of Judas had he waited. His witness might have been the most powerful of all the disciples’. Can you imagine him telling his story throughout the empire? “I betrayed the Lord for thirty pieces of silver. I watched him die on the cross. But on the third day, he rose. And he forgave even me! If he forgave me, what can he do for you?”

In our lives, we have moments that seem overwhelmingly bleak. We make a mess of things and see no way out. Judas felt that way. But the message of the cross and Resurrection is that God is the Lord of second chances. In even the most dire circumstances, there is always hope. After our most egregious sins, there is the offer of grace. In the darkest of times, there is an Easter yet to come.

Listen carefully: there is always hope. God is able to take the pain and despair of the present and bring from it something remarkable. You can’t imagine it now, but look for someone or something that can help you find hope: a pastor, a family member, a friend, a suicide hotline. Remember Judas’s story. Think about what could have been, if only he had waited three days.

Lord, help me to trust you in my darkest hour. Help me to remember that you can take something as ugly as a cross and turn it into an instrument of salvation. Grant me courage to keep walking when I feel like giving up. Amen.

* * * If you or someone you know is struggling with suicidal thoughts, contact a suicide hotline in your area and contact the pastor of your local church.

excerpt from: The Way: 40 Days of Reflections by Adam Hamilton Copyright©2013 by Abingdon Press. Used with permission.

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