I was intrigued by the idea of a Judas cake on Sister Mary Martha’s blog. It’s a pineapple and nut confection that is traditionally decorated with eleven marzipan balls to represent the eleven apostles remaining after the Crucifixion. I ran across a recipe in a website and the author ended her discussion of the tradition of serving this cake at Easter with the reflection that she decorated the cake with twelve balls, because Judas was no worse than the other failed disciples, and the theology, like the cake recipe, needed updating.
Now here’s where the two sides of my Catholic brain come into struggle. Dangerous turf, it is, to be judging the state of one man’s soul versus another, and that is why the Church compels us not to do so. Acts we may reflect on and judge to be proper or not; sinful, or not--but judging the man who does them --as either better or worse or the same-- is another story. What is it about this statement about Judas that makes me so very, very twitchy?
Two things, I think. The first is that I see behind the conclusion that Judas was no worse than the other failed Apostles the sort of false moral equivalence that makes people believe that an abortion is no worse and no different than removing an unwanted mole from the face of a pretty girl and the kind of logical confusion that fails to understand what the important questions and lessons really are. The reality is: there are some things that are more evil than others, more sinful than others, and some courses of life that bring you closer to God and some that take you farther away. The question isn’t whether Judas was “better” or “worse” than the others--the question is: What did he do differently, and what difference did it make? From the outside in, it looks like Judas took a course that led him away from God.
Sister Mary Martha (asksistermarymartha.blogspot.com) points out that Judas not only betrayed Christ, he removed himself from God’s presence. He repented of his decision, but then killed himself--did the very thing, perhaps the only thing, that would prevent God’s grace and forgiveness from getting to him. Peter denied Christ and ran away--but kept himself in the fellowship of the others, repented of his denial and remained open to receive forgiveness. The difference is not so much in the action, for betrayal is betrayal, but in the reaction it provoked. Sorrow and repentance--and openness to grace--or not.
I take great comfort in the Church’s teaching about Hell:
“Eternal Damnation,” therefore, is not attributed to God's initiative because in His merciful love He can only desire the salvation of the beings He created. In reality, it is the creature who closes himself to His love. Damnation consists precisely in definitive separation from God, freely chosen by the human person and confirmed with death that seals his choice for ever. God's judgement ratifies this state.
God, it appears, will ultimately give us what we want, and what we want is not what we confess, or think, or express or say. What we want is reflected by what we do. This is the other reason that the comment makes me twitchy. I have more in common with Judas than I like to think. As dangerous as it is to judge a man’s soul, more dangerous than that is to judge my position to be better. But for the grace of God....
Which brings me back to the Judas cake. I am different from Judas, at least at present, because I try to remain open to God’s forgiveness. I hope I am different because I see the great grace and great wisdom in confession, and the great treasure that it brings. I hope I am choosing another course because I know that, whether I betray Christ in word or for silver, God’s forgiveness is there for the taking, if I will but sincerely repent and claim it. I hope to be more like Peter than Judas because I know that the grace of confession will help me to truly change the things that bring me into the confessional in the first place, if ever so slowly. I hope I am different because I believe that if I let HIm, God will reshape me in the image of His Son.
I think I will make a Judas cake before Easter is over, to remind myself by the wonderful flavors and surprises in it of the immensity of God’s love and the treasure of Christ’s passion. And I’ll put only eleven little marzipan balls on the top, not because I believe I am better than Judas, but to remind me that it’s my job to cooperate with God in His grace and forgiveness. To remind me that there is a terrible cost if I choose not to. And to drive home the thought that if I choose not to, the cost will be my decision alone.
I’ll put the traditional eleven little balls on the cake to remind me to stay with the eleven, in the Church, in the sacraments, where God can reach me, save me, shape me, change me. That theology needs no updating at all, for it is as true today as it was one bitter night in Jerusalem so very long ago.