During the long period of lockdown last year, I was browsing idly at paintings for sale on an art website. I was just flicking through the various offerings when one caught my eye.
By a New York based Swiss artist Pascal Fessler it was titled, The Return of Judas.
The painting depicts some men at a table with bread and wine- presumably Jesus and the apostles. In the doorway to the room, which is wide open, in a bold shaft of light, stands a man, presumably Judas, with his hands in his pockets.
He casts a dark shadow but the shadow does not cover the table, maybe it extends out under the table, I don’t know.
I found the whole scene a bit confronting but I kept being drawn back to it over the following couple of weeks. Each time I went back I was half hoping that the painting would be sold but at the same time hoping that it would not be.
Finally, I bought the painting and this is it here on the stand. You can come and have a closer look at it later if you wish. To me the painting is full of possibilities and raises many questions.
One of the questions it raises for me is this- Can Judas come back to the table?
If the answer to that is up to me, then no! Judas has crossed a line and he can’t come back. His betrayal of Jesus is just too much; a step too far.
But it is not up to me. It is up to God as to who has a place at the table - places at the table are not mine to give or deny.
Maybe, as the artist seems to suggest, God’s light and Spirit can lead even Judas back. And if Judas does come back, what will he find? At God’s table he will find no vengeance, no condemnation only love and understanding. At God’s table the spiral of violence stops.
Is our God really the God we meet in the first reading who goes through Egypt striking down all the first born?
I don’t think so. If we were slaves in Egypt then that is how we might want it to happen but as humans, slave or free, we do not control God. And the God we meet in Jesus Christ is not a God who inflicts violence it is a God who absorbs violence and overcomes it with love. I think God has a place at the table for Pharaoh and the Egyptians too.
When Jesus commenced his public mission he went to the synagogue and took down the book of Isaiah and proclaimed to all gathered there, “I have come to bring good news to the poor, liberty to captives, sight to the blind and to set prisoners free”.
But the poor and the blind and the prisoners and the outcasts were not there- it was a synagogue- only the respectable were there.
And at our table too, tonight, where is Judas? Where are the Egyptian slave traders? Where are the poor, where are the broken and the lost? I don’t see them, I think we have to go out and get them.
God’s table is a wide table and God wants them all; and God wants us too.
The really good news for us today is that God does not just want our respectable selves at this table - God wants all that is us - the Judas bits as well as the Jesus bits. We can bring before our God, at this table, everything that is in us that is corrupt, duplicitous, disloyal, selfish and broken. All of this is invited to God’s table not to be condemned but to be converted, nourished, forgiven and healed.
Fr Joe Caddy