Barth on Judas

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“He is not opposed to the surrender of Mary’s costly ointment. But he wants something for it – namely 300 denarii – not for himself, as he explains but to give to the poor. He is not willing that the complete devotion, which by her deed Mary had in a sense given the apostles as a pattern for their own life, should be an absolute offering to Jesus…It is to be for the benefit of the poor, of those who are injured or needy, to help improve their lot and that of others, and in that way it will be a meaningful devotion. This view, this attitude of Judas, is what makes him unclean. It finds relatively innocuous expression. It is not really evil. To correct it would be comparatively easy. But it was because of it that Judas “handed over” Jesus. If a man does not devote himself prodigally to Jesus, if he considers something too good to be offered to Him, if he thinks another purpose more important than the glorifying of His condescension, of His death, that man is as such unclean and opposes his election. He makes himself impossible as an apostle. He must and will hand Jesus over – hand Him over to men, to be crucified. He has virtually done so already in and with this attitude towards Jesus. Already, by this attitude, he has acted as one of the men at whose hands Jesus can only be slain” (CD, II/2, 462).

I’ve always found this passage in John to be particularly interesting, mostly because it differs from the Synoptics in singling out Judas as being the only apostle who was against Mary’s extravagant present.

John 12:5-6, “Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages” He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it.”

Barth does not take that bait, but rather criticizes Judas for prioritizing something over his obedience to Jesus, namely giving money to the poor. This passage has always confused me. I mean it seems in this passage Judas is truer to the Kingdom than Jesus is. Wasn’t this the same teacher who instructed his disciples to sell all that they have and give their money to the poor? Does Barth go too far here? Doesn’t Jesus tell his disciples in Matthew 25 that their devotion to him will only be measured by their treatment of the least of these? However, we must remember that in Matthew 26:11, Jesus tells his disciples this, “The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me.” This is another passage that I’ve always struggled with. Is Jesus challenging his disciples here? Is he saying until you truly take up your cross and truly die, the poor will still be among you?

“But it is a part of the New Testament Gospel of Jesus Christ that before His death Jesus had an apostle beside Him as a witness to the divine rejection of men which He bore and bore away, just as after His resurrection He had an apostle beside Him as a witness to the divine election for men which was bestowed upon Him and which he Himself fulfilled. The fact that Judas had the former function, as Paul subsequently had the latter, is something which remains to Judas, whatever else may be involved in his determination…Between them both, between Judas and Paul, stands Jesus Christ – as, according to Lk. 233, He hung on the cross between the two malefactors who were crucified with Him; and the rejection of Judas is the rejection which Jesus Christ has borne, just as the election of Paul is in the first His election. Apart from Him Judas would not be Judas, just as apart from Him, Paul would not be Paul” (CD II/2, 480).

Interesting passage. I’ll be posting more on Barth’s doctrine of election later on this week.

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3 Responses to “Barth on Judas”

  1. Robert Minto Says:

    Very interesting. I’ve wondered about this one as well. It’s related in my mind to the similarly confusing “I’m the bridegroom, party while I’m here,” passages.

    Good post.

  2. Jeremy Says:

    Same thing when Jesus tells Pilate in John that “my Kingdom is not of this world”. That gets my vote (other than the passages on homosexuality or the passage where the Jews take responsibility for Jesus’ execution in Matt) for verse I’d most like to see removed from the Bible. I mean, is this a challenge Jesus is issuing? Is he saying given the way things are currently run, my kingdom will always be to come? I just don’t see how it’s possible to reconcile that verse with…you know…the Synoptics.

  3. Robert Minto Says:

    That, or he was originating the idiom “it’s out o’ this world!”

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