Matthew 27:1-10 "I’m Sorry"
Seremon Preached on 4th Sunday in Lent; 3-26-06
Preparation for Prayer for Illumination and Scripture Reading
This text contains a story that is quite familiar to many of us. It also contains a theme that could provoke a number of sensitive feelings for some who are present today. There have been many in the sanctuary who have been touched by suicide by family members, friends, and coworkers. In our text, Judas, one of Jesus’ close friends and disciples, kills himself. There are some in the Church of Jesus Christ who believe that suicide is unforgivable on the basis that there is not an opportunity to repent of this sin. We should, however, be cautious about this and remember that we are saved by God’s grace. Remember that there is nothing that we can do that speaks a louder word than what God has done for us in Christ. Sin is deeply mysterious, but remember, that God’s grace is deeper than our sin.
Sermon: “I’m Sorry” “The Missing Piece”
I am amazed how much of ourselves we can see when we look at our children.
Often, it takes courage to look! For the last few months, my wife and I have been trying to encourage our children to name three things as part of their evening prayers. We ask them to name something they are:
- thankful for
- praising God for
- sorry for
It is fun to listen to all things that enter into their minds and hearts in this prayer time. The list of things they praise God for is long! The list of things they are thankful for goes even longer. Yet, when it comes to the time in their prayer where they must name something they are sorry about, their often becomes a time of silent prayers. Who can blame them actually. Whether we are children or adults, admission of wrong and sorrow is hard to speak and acknowledge. During their periods of silence, I will often peek to see them thinking during this time. In that time, they often clearly find something, but are often weighing, do I dare acknowledge this thing? Do I really need to?!
When I see this difficulty in my children I shake my head and smile. It is true that our children remind us so much of ourselves. Their indecision, their wondering, their difficulty in saying the words “I’m sorry” brings a smile of familiarity to my face. In those moments of difficulty in acknowledging wrong, they remind me so much of …… their mother. (sic)
The hard struggle of a wounded ego fighting for survival
It is hard for us to acknowledge our sorrow. It is hard for us to admit it to ourselves, to acknowledge it before God, and perhaps hardest of all for us to name it to the one whom we have hurt. Even when we are successful at naming our sorrow in some cases, it is easy for us to ruin perfectly good apologies with excuses. Often in the face of an apology, we will feel a need to give supporting evidence, reasons, conditions, circumstances, and our “rationale at the time” that somehow shaped why we said or did something. And every time we offer this supporting evidence for our actions or inaction, we take a little of the weightiness of our apologies away.
To say the words “I was wrong” or “I’m sorry” means and costs us a lot. Doing so goes against the grain of everything that comes natural to us. It is as if we have natural defense mechanisms in us that protect us from such vulnerability. The truth is, we do not like to feel weak or indebted. To admit that we are wrong puts us in a place of vulnerability and that feeling pushes us. We, after all, have pride & dignity to protect. We have fragile egos that fight for survival, even when we are not aware of it.
A powerful illustration of our struggle to survive
As part of our UpWords series, we are making connections and sharing resources with other churches. In a related sermon on the word “confession”, one of our partner churches heard a great illustration from their pastor, Peter Choi. Rev Choi when speaking about confession likened our difficulty in doing it to the final test of Navy Seals. These commandos in training are taken out into the water by their training supervisors and are drowned. Fellow “special forces” trainers apparently dunk them under the water until their lungs fill with water and they need to be resuscitated. One can only imagine what that is like. One can only imagine the panic, the fight, and the natural survival instincts that we have to keep our head above water. Yet, in the context of confession - or an “I’m sorry” - we must wonder what it is in us that is kicking and screaming in its struggle to survive. I wonder how many of these recruits who must undergo this would testify how much easier it was for them once they yielded themselves to their “death”. I wonder how much better it was for them to allow themselves to receive the new life and breath of those who seemed to be taking their lives away. And when I imagine that picture, I see a scene of what the Gospel is all about: a yielding of self so that the life of Another can fill us. But this requires the willing death of that part of us that is most intent on staying alive; the part of us that is most desperate to protect our vulnerability when we must admit that there is something about us – or what we have done – that is not quite right. A question worth asking ourselves is this: what is it in me that sometimes kicks and screams and resists when it comes to saying, “I’m sorry”? What is it in us that resists saying “I was wrong”? Truly, what is it that we are protecting? If we can begin to ask these questions (let alone answer them) we might be on the right track toward a scriptural picture of repentance.
I read our text this week and Judas has been on my mind a lot. If you want to read more about him, John 13 and Acts 1 are other places you can go as well (there are more, but this is a good start).
Judas is one of the followers of Jesus. Judas is a friend. He is one of us. He is trusted and reliable. Among the twelve, Judas is given a position of honor, responsibility, and importance. The Treasurer was responsible for buying food, caring for the poor, and carrying out special tasks for Jesus. In John 13, Jesus “sends” Judas out on a task saying, “do what you must do”. The disciples don’t give it a second thought that Judas is “doing something for the Master”; such deputized tasks seem typical.
Judas is a friend and a brother; he is one of us. Most scholars believe that Judas was a zealot, which is to say that he would be one who carried a lot of passion. Maybe he was one who was drawn to Jesus’ message of the Kingdom. Maybe he saw this Kingdom as a clear and certain sign that Jesus would soon overthrow Rome. Some scholars have wondered if Judas Iscariot was a member of the Sicarrius – a group whose members were opportunists - and kept daggers under their cloak for just the right moment. (See ISBE, pg 1152). These “assassins” – or dagger-bearers – were ready to join a revolt at any time and were ready to offer their passion and energy for the “right cause”.
One wonders if Judas had grown impatient with Jesus’ apparent slowness in overthrowing Rome. Maybe he was ready for Rome to be abolished and turned Jesus in to force his hand in order to bring the Kingdom now. If we can hold such a view, many things begin to fall into place. Judas may have felt as though he had suffered long enough with Jesus’ failure to bring in the Kingdom fast, or forcefully enough. In such a scenario, Judas, the responsible brother, treasurer and friend, might himself feel betrayed by Jesus who is failing to meet his expectations.
The text seems to support such a possibility when Matthew writes in verse 3, “when Judas saw that Jesus was condemned, he was seized with remorse.”
From little on, I was always taught that Judas was the villain in this story. While I do not want to vindicate him of the responsibility of his actions, I never quite picked up on this part of the story. It seems as though Judas had a change of heart. The vocabulary used to describe what is going on in Judas is “conversion variety” vocabulary. When else to we read about “being seized with remorse”, “returning” and an acknowledgement of “I have sinned”? This is strong language to describe something happening to Judas. It causes me to wonder about what else is now filling this “Devil in Disciples clothing”. (Barbara Brown Taylor’s expression. For an excellent sermon on Judas read Taylor’s: God in Pain. Betrayer in our Midst pg 41)
Something else has seized Judas and that something is remorse and regret. In the past when I have read this text, I never paid much attention to those three things of: seized by remorse, returned the coins, and his proclamation of “I have sinned.” In the context of “I’m sorry”, this part of the passage takes on new meaning.
What does it mean for a man in spiritual crisis to go to his “pastors”, “priests” and “spiritual guides” and hear those dreadful words, “that’s your responsibility”? They will neither help him, nor listen to him. And in 20 verses, Pilate is going to wash his hands of responsibility too and say these same words to the Chief Priests. For them, Temple money can apparently be spent to buy Jesus’ life, but cannot be received back when that man’s life is running out. Their motives all along were that this was going to be “blood money”; one wonders if Judas is learning this for the first time.
Repentance: regretting consequences and motives
Judas is seized by remorse for what he has done. We might ask however, if part of his darkness in this moment is his realization that not just the outcome was regretful, but his motives as well.
Heartfelt sorrow & repentance is not just regretting getting caught or realizing our wrong. Heartfelt repentance and godly sorrow is not just a willingness to see the damage that we’ve done, but a willingness to look at our character and see that thing that we have not been willing to look at. Underneath the consequences of our actions lies less than pure motives that drive us. And these motivations – if we are willing to look at them – are struggling for survival and protection. These things are never about someone else, but are always ours. We might wish to blame another for the presence of these impure motives, but at the end of the day, they are ours and we need to face them if we wish to grow.
What is painfully missing in this story is Judas’ failure to go to Jesus whom he has harmed. Judas has come to the realization that he sinned. He is gripped by remorse, he tries to right the wrong by returning the coins; he even goes into the Temple area and says, “I have sinned”. I wonder how many of us go that far when we realize that we have done wrong? How many of us are willing to try to right the wrong, confess the sin to another, and say, “I have sinned”? Judas’ recognition of what he has done is in some ways breathtaking compared to what some of us might do in the face of our sins against others.
The Missing Piece
The missing piece in this story is that Judas does not throw himself on the mercy of the One he has harmed. It is that failure, that unwillingness, and that inability that results in this man’s self-destruction. The One he has harmed holds the antidote to the poison that is within him. Judas’ willingness to acknowledge his failure and own it as his responsibility opens the doorway for him to experience release and forgiveness. But doing so requires a yielding and a death that he is not able to do. He is unwilling to go to Jesus and throw himself in the wide-open arms of mercy that would certainly be there ready to forgive.
Today I wonder if we realize how much healing there is available if we are willing to acknowledge our part in the failure or breakdown of our relationships. I wonder how many times each of us may have confessed our wrongdoing to ourselves and to God, but have not gone one-step further to face that other person – the one whom we have harmed. I have been involved in conflicts in this congregation where I have heard people say, “I’ll be damned if I say “sorry” first.” I hear this and think of the gnawing poison that is in us when we let our hurts and our resentments simmer. I think of Judas whose own innards are in turmoil in the face of who he could not face.
Judas was right. Our darkness (John 13) is dark enough that it is a matter of life or death. Our darkness is so bad that when we look at it we recognize that someone is going to need to die in order to extinguish it. Unfortunately, Judas took this darkness on himself. In the relentless struggle for survival, Judas had difficulty yielding to the One who could release him from the burden of guilt and shame that he bore. In the struggle for survival, Judas kept trying to tread water rather than throw himself on the mercy of the One who held forgiveness in hand.
The Power of “I’m Sorry”
I wish the man who gave the money back to the priests, who said, “I’m sorry” (to God?) in the Temple, and who tried to right the wrong of betrayal would have gone to Jesus and said, “I’m sorry.” I wonder how the story would have been different. I wonder too, if Judas would have opened a great, wide door of grace for himself – a door that was locked from the inside. In the end, if we do not open the door that which is waiting to be healed, touched, and cured may undo us. Apologies – even small ones – are great big doorways through which grace can pour in. Apologies can break the levies of resentment and let love & healing flow into our lives. Apologies make space in relationships for new life to happen.
Years ago, there was incredible healing that was opened up when Pope John Paul II apologized for the Roman Catholic Church’s participation and inaction in the holocaust. A recent public apology that was surprising in its scope and honesty came from Richard Clarke in an opening statement before a 9-11 congressional committee. He said, “your government failed you, those protecting you failed you, I failed you, we failed you. For that failure I would ask for your understanding & forgiveness.” Imagine what that was like for a 9-11 family member to hear. Your loved one cannot be replaced, but to hear a government official say these words had to be powerful and an occasion for healing.
Imagine the same kinds of healing opportunities opening up when a parent says to a child, “I’m sorry”. “I have been working too much, I have been quick to anger, I haven’t been listening to you like I should.” Such moments create powerful vulnerability for an adult and sacred silence to a child. Who knows what kinds of good things could happen in those moments?
Today one of the things we should think about in the story of Judas is that for us, there is still time for us to change directions, right our wrongs, and take a new path.
There is still time to offer an “I’m sorry” to someone we have hurt. There is still time to take the initiative and open a doorway to someone else’s healing as well as our own. The story of Judas reminds us in some ways that if we do not deal adequately or completely with our sin we harm ourselves.
Like Judas, we need to be willing to see it, look at it, recognize it for what it is, confess it, try and right it, and then go one step further and deal directly with the person we have hurt. There is incredible healing power in “I’m sorry”; it does the world and relationships a Kingdom world of good.
And for those waiting for an apology…
And today, if you find self waiting for an apology, if you feel as though you are entitled to one or that someone owes you one, I want to encourage you to stop waiting. Don’t hold out for it because it may never come. You may find yourself being held hostage to your own hopes and your own anger because “you have it coming.” And what if it never comes? You have been held and then have spent your life in a holding pattern for something that may not come. What I would like to encourage instead is that you handle your friend – who may be your adversary – the way that Jesus did.
In the upper room, Jesus knows the score. He knows what is brewing in Judas’ mind – he is after all, Judas’ brother and friend. In spite of all that is going on inside of Judas, Jesus washes Judas’ dusty feet, welcomes him to the table, eats with him, and loves him with his whole heart. Even though Judas has wild and skewed expectations for Jesus that Jesus will never fulfill, Jesus loves Judas anyway and serves him bread and wine. Even though the encroaching darkness has led to sinister intentions, Jesus keeps loving him by breaking his own Body open (Acts 1) and spilling his own blood. Yes, Christ died even for Judas – even for this dagger-wielding Brutus who gives him the kiss of death.
It is only in the face of the grace and forgiveness of God in Christ that we can say “I’m sorry”. The amazing thing about God is that he sent Christ before anyone could say, “I’m sorry”. God did not require “I’m sorry” as a prerequisite to sending his Son, but loved us anyway. He feeds us bread, he washes our feet, and he goes all the way to death for us in spite of all our sinister motivations.
It seems to me the more we take home for ourselves what God has done for us in Christ, the more we are going to find ourselves saying, “I’m sorry”. The more we come to realize what God has not required of us ahead of time, the more we find ourselves claiming our Easter Sunday word of “Thank You”. It is true that our darkness is dark enough that a death is required, but if we are willing to open the door, it is the death and the forgiveness of the Son that brings new life and new possibilities for our relationships. The more we see of the Son, the less we see of what someone else owes to us. The more we see the Son, the more we see our missing pieces coming together again. In the face of that kind of healing, we will find ourselves say “I’m sorry” and “Thank You”.
In the Name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.
Rev Marc Nelesen
Third Christian Reformed Church
4th Sunday in Lent
UpWords Series: I’m Sorry
March 26, 2006
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