“If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness,
we lie and do not live out the truth.” 1 John 1:6
Judas betrayed not only Jesus, but himself. He proved to be his own worst enemy, refusing to heed Jesus’ gentle pre-judgment warning that might have saved him. Judas had every advantage. He had been with Jesus from the beginning. He witnessed the miracles and listened to the Master’s preaching. He was one of the Twelve. He experienced first hand the intimacy of table fellowship and the public impact of feeding the multitudes. He observed transformed lives and experienced the mounting tension with the religious authorities. He walked with Jesus from Galilee to Judah. He ate, slept, and prayed with Jesus. When many disciples left because Jesus’ teaching was offensive, Judas remained. He was isolated and alone in the company of Jesus and his disciples. And in the end Jesus washed his feet.
John Chrysostom, one of the greatest prophet-pastors in the early church, died in 407, but not before issuing a powerful challenge to the followers of the Lord Jesus. John was banished to a remote mountainous town in Armenia, far from his church in Constantinople, because his preaching had offended the emperor. Everything was taken from him— health, church, friends, ministry, and preaching. Everything, but the one thing necessary— the truth that this exhausted fifty-six year old prophet pastor clung to—his devotion to Christ. His letters from exile are strong, uncompromising epistles, written by a resilient saint, who steeled himself against the world, the flesh, and the devil. His controlling thought was simple: nothing can destroy you but yourself. Your own worst enemy is not the devil or disease, but your sinful self. Your greatest danger is self-betrayal. Your greatest weakness, littleness of soul.
Chrysostom contended that “no one who is wronged is wronged by another, but experiences this injury at his or her own hands.” Nothing can ruin our virtue or destroy our soul, that is not self-inflicted. John argued that poverty cannot impoverish the soul. Malignancy cannot malign the character. The lack of health care cannot destroy a healthy soul. Famine cannot famish one who hungers and thirsts for righteousness. No! Not even the devil and death can destroy those who live sober and vigilant lives. Educator Parker Palmer offers a similar insight when he writes, “No punishment anyone lays on you could possibly be worse than the punishment you lay on yourself by conspiring in your own diminishment.”
Theologian Jerry Sittser describes the challenge we face this way:
“The difference between despair and hope, bitterness and forgiveness, hatred and love, and stagnation and vitality lies in the decisions we make about what to do in the face of regrets over an unchanging and painful past. We cannot change the situation, but we can allow the situation to change us. We exacerbate our suffering needlessly when we allow one loss to lead to another. That causes gradual destruction of the soul. . . .
The death that comes through loss of spouse, children, parents, health, job, marriage, childhood, or any other kind is not the worst kind of death there is. Worse still is the death of the spirit, the death that comes through guilt, regret, bitterness, hatred, immorality, and despair. The first kind of death happens to us; the second kind of death happens in us. It is a death we bring upon ourselves if we refuse to be transformed by the first death.“
Self-betrayal is the danger, littleness of soul the problem. “Those who do not injure themselves become stronger,” wrote Chrysostom, “even if they receive innumerable blows; but they who betray themselves, even if there is no one to harass them, fall of themselves, and collapse and perish.” Judas had no one to blame but himself. When he left the upper room, he walked out into the night, not only literally, but figuratively. Judas chose the darkness over the light, even though he had been surrounded by the light of Christ for three years. Years later, the apostle John implied in his epistle that Judas’ experience was not uncommon. Professing believers, like Judas, experience everything that Christ and the church have to offer, but in the end, they are not one of the disciples and the truth comes out.
My fear is that Judas was in person what our culture is in mass. T. S. Eliot in Thoughts after Lambeth captures the ethos of Judas writ large over the canvas of culture when he writes, “The World is trying the experiment of attempting to form a civilized but non-Christian mentality. The experiment will fail; but we must be very patient in awaiting its collapse; meanwhile redeeming the time: so that the Faith may be preserved alive through the dark ages before us; to renew and rebuild civilization, and save the World from suicide.”
Upper Room Reflection
Why was Judas without excuse?
How do we resist the temptation of hiding our true thoughts and feelings in plain view of our brothers and sisters in Christ?
Why is the betrayal of Jesus a form of self-betrayal?
Are there practical ways we can resist self-betrayal and littleness of soul?
 John Chrysostom, “To Prove That No One Can Harm The Man Who Does Not Injure Himself,” Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, vol. 9, first series, ed. Philip Schaff (Peabody, Mass: Hendrickson Publishers, 1995), p. 274
 Chrysostom, p. 272
 Parker J. Palmer, The Courage to Teach: Exploring the Inner Landscape of a Teacher’s Life (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1998), p. 171
 Sittser, A Grace Disguised, pp. 86-87.
 Chrysostom, “To Prove That No One. . .”, p. 280