Betrayed

This may sound like a morbid question, but if you’ve ever attended a memorial service, you may already have thought about this anyway: what do you want people to say at your funeral? It is, after all, a “memorial.” How do you want to be remembered after you’re gone?

Some years ago, I attended a memorial service being given for the father of a friend. I was there to lend moral support in a difficult time. During the eulogy, I found myself squirming a bit in my seat, because the pastor seemed to be struggling to find something nice to say. The best eulogies remind us of the possibilities of goodness and devotion; they inspire us with stories of a life well lived. Against the background of such expectations, the one or two random acts of kindness the pastor mentioned seemed trivial and sad.

But I suppose that’s better than being remembered forever after for a singular act of betrayal.

In American culture, the name “Benedict Arnold” is synonymous with “traitor” or “betrayer.” But I think it’s a safe bet to say that many if not most Americans don’t know who he was or how he earned that reputation (okay, I had to look it up). If you’ve seen spy movies, think “double agent” and you’ll have the sense of it. Arnold was an American general during the Revolutionary War. Bitter over how he was being treated by superiors and peers, he plotted with the British to surrender a strategic fort (West Point, in the days befor the academy) that was under his command. The plot, however, was discovered, and Arnold narrowly escaped capture as he fled to Britain to receive a commission in the British army.

Here’s an even safer bet: more people know the name of Judas than Benedict Arnold, and know the nature of his betrayal. Judas is so well known for his treachery that his name even gets applied to…goats.

Sheep are famous for being mindless followers — until you get them to the slaughterhouse. Somehow, they know. How do you get all those reluctant sheep off the truck?

Enter the “Judas goat.” The trained goat is led up a plank onto the truck, where it calmly turns around and walks back down and toward the slaughterhouse. The sheep apparently say to themselves, “Well, Billy seems perfectly calm. He’s not afraid of that big scary building. Guess it must be okay.”

Off they go. Only Billy comes back out, ready to betray the next flock.

Hopefully, none of us will ever give someone cause to call us “Judas.” Hopefully, none of us will ever do anything so spectacularly bad as to make our names watchwords for the worst humanity has to offer.

But let’s not put Judas in such an elite category of treachery that we fail to recognize our common humanity. Have we never betrayed a friend or loved one? Never broken a promise or been disloyal? Never thrown someone under the bus to save ourselves?

Judas was a human being, a friend of Jesus, someone whom the disciples did not suspect of treachery even after Jesus declared that he was about to be betrayed. His eyes didn’t glow red. I imagine him as a man of mistaken goals, whose selfish nature grew to tragic proportions. He hardened his heart when Jesus took hold of his feet to wash them, refusing the example of loving service, committing himself even more stubbornly to his disastrous course.

Perhaps, if we recognize the same things in ourselves, we can repent of them before we do something we wouldn’t want remembered at our funeral.

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