The Hard Thing is to Die for the Miserable & Corrupt

The Hard Thing is to Die for the Miserable & Corrupt

Fr. Carl Chudy, SX

Recently I read an essay by Gregory Wolfe, publisher and editor of the extraordinary journal, Image: Art | Faith | Mystery, entitled Listening to Silence. Image Journal demonstrate the continued vitality and diversity of contemporary art and literature that engage with the religious traditions of Western culture. It is fodder for my own spiritual life in a myriad of ways.

Wolfe writes of his encounter with the film by Martin Scorese, Silence, that depicts the early years of Christian persecution in Japan of the Middle Ages and the dramatic transformation of Jesuit missionaries and the Christians of Japan caught in the maelstrom of persecution: violence, faith, betrayal, and redemption.

What struck me was a character in the film Wolfe writes about, who represents another person we are hearing in the scriptures during this Holy Week, Judas of Iscariot. He says:

“Judas has been all too easily reviled throughout western history, yet he is an inherently dramatic figure, caught between self-preservation and a certain form of tortured idealism, between loyalty and betrayal. In his foreword to the new edition of Silence, Scorsese writes: “Endō looks at the problem of Judas more directly than any other artist I know.” In both the novel and film Kichijiro fulfils the role of a ragtag Judas, a pathetic, cowardly sort who betrays Father Rodrigues and his own Christian faith but who continues to lurk on the perimeter of the story, alternately hiding in shame and returning with anguished pleas for the sacrament of confession.

Rodrigues is initially repulsed by Kichijiro, seeing only his weakness and venality. His own training has conditioned him to see the Christian as a hero overcoming adversity through the strength of his conviction, but Kichijiro reveals to him a new dimension of faith. Rodrigues reflects: “But Christ did not die for the good and the beautiful. It is easy enough to die for the good and the beautiful; the hard thing is to die for the miserable and corrupt….”

We will paying particular attention to Judas Iscariot, his role in the death of Jesus, and his own anguish in those events that purportedly resulted in suicide. In the end, perhaps the most likely explanation historical, theological and spiritual is that Judas wanted a God of his own making: an avenging God who would serve justice by tossing out the hated occupiers and restoring the fortunes of the people of Israel. What Judas got was very different: a suffering God who willingly accepted a shameful death on a cross. A crucified God, in the theologian Jürgen Moltmann’s poignant phrase. Tragically, Judas did not stick around to see what happened on Easter morning. (Excerpt from America Magazine

Judas, in the Christian imagination, was not condemned simply for his betrayal of Christ. Traditional Christian piety has long held that he was also condemned for the despair that led to his suicide. You were right to be afraid, Judas, wrote St. Augustine in his Exposition on the Psalms, but your fear ought to have been accompanied by hope in the mercy of him whom you feared, like Peter, like us all.

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