Thursday, April 17, 2014

What's Your Mind Set On?

This was supposed to go up yesterday, but the day got away from me.

The subject for today is Judas Iscariot, the man whose name has become synonymous with betrayal. In some circles, the Wednesday of Holy Week is known as "Spy Wednesday", named for Judas and the Pharisees he sold Jesus out to, who sought an opportunity to catch him. So I thought we would look at Judas for a little bit and contrast him with someone else.

I'm sure Judas began as a good guy. He was one of many people who came and followed Jesus in the early days. When Jesus selected twelve to be his main guys, Judas was one of them. To be in the inner circle was a big deal! We also learn from John's gospel that Judas was given treasury responsibilities. He handled the money box for Jesus' ministry. The gospels rarely discuss the finances of Jesus and his disciples, perhaps because that's less interesting than miracles. But we know they had to buy food and things of that nature. Probably they did other charity work of giving to the poor, since Judas mentions this sort of thing at one point. But however they raised funds and whatever they did with them, we know Judas was in charge of it.

Now let's pick up the story several days before Passover. John's gospel implies this event occurs before the "triumphal entry", others do not. But they generally agree it was several days before Passover. Most gospels say two days before. John says he was in Bethany six days before, but that doesn't mean that he didn't stay there awhile and this event couldn't have been two days before. Anyway, Jesus and friends were in Bethany where Martha, Mary and the now very much alive Lazarus live. And this group was all at the house of Simon for dinner. At one point in the evening, Mary takes a bottle of very expensive perfume, brings it to Jesus and anoints him with it. You may be familiar with this story, as it appears in films and stage productions (often with erroneous details). Judas gets indignant about it, saying it was a waste of such expensive stuff and telling Jesus, "We could have sold it and given that money to the poor!" Others there apparently agree and echo the sentiment (Matthew and Mark say it was "some of the disciples", while John specifically mentions Judas. I don't doubt it was his idea). Jesus tells them they will always have opportunity to give to the poor, but that he wouldn't be around very long. He blesses Mary, who has anointed his body for burial. Shortly after this, Judas begins plotting how he can betray Jesus, and goes to the Pharisees who offer him thirty pieces of silver to turn him in.

As you may have noticed above, the song I've chosen for today is that classic George Harrison ear worm, "Got My Mind Set On You". What was it each of these people had their minds on?

Well, the Pharisees had their minds on maintaining political power, and on eliminating Jesus as soon as possible. And so they finally were able to hire Judas as an inside man to betray him. But what was Judas' mind set on?

Well, to quote the song, Judas was thinking about "a whole lot of spending money". Now, I'm sure it seems reasonable to you to sell goods and give them to the poor. And generally, that may be a good thing. The early Christians in the first century did just that, selling their goods and distributing to the needy. But John's gospel tells us that even though Judas said that, he didn't really mean it. Judas was actually secretly embezzling from Jesus' ministry. So when he saw that oil of spikenard, he wasn't thinking so much of the poor they could help; he was thinking when they sold it, he could skim a healthy chunk off the top for himself. It's easy to paint Judas as a mustache-twirling villain, but again I'd say he started out good as far as we know. But somehow temptation started to get the better of him and he became a thief.  His mind, which started on Jesus, began to stray to his own selfishness.

There's a story about a rather obscure miracle in the Bible. It says one day Jesus and Peter went up to the Temple and found they had no money for the temple tax. So Jesus tells Peter to go catch a fish, and that fish he catches will have happened to swallow some money. Peter catches a fish, and there's a coin in its mouth, just enough for Jesus and Peter's temple tax. Now, this is a fun bizarre little story in itself. But I have often wondered if the reason Jesus and Peter were caught short that day is because of Judas' theft. Jesus doesn't strike me as the kind of guy to just show up unprepared like that. So I like to think that this is a teeny bit of foreshadowing Judas' embezzling.

Luke's gospel adds another tantalizing detail, telling us "at that time, Satan entered Judas". It seems then that the betrayal of Jesus wasn't fully Judas' idea, but put in his mind by Satan, the Adversary. Judas' mind was now set on the things below, confused by the devil. I have issues with the musical Jesus Christ Superstar, but if you know the show you'll recall that it opens with Judas singing a monologue about his concern for Jesus' growing following as Messiah. The very first line is "my mind is clearer now". This is probably not what Tim Rice had in mind when he wrote it, but when I hear the line, I like to picture that his mind is clearer now because Satan has just distorted it. And everything he sings after this is colored by Satan. If I were ever to stage the show, I'd probably even start it off with Satan whispering in his ear before the song or something like that. But Judas' mind was no longer clear; it was muddied by sin and Satan. Perhaps by giving in to his own desires, Judas had opened the door to be used of the enemy. It may be that he comes to realize this in the end, which is why he ultimately kills himself. But under Satan's influence, he was quick to agree to betraying Jesus. But he told the Pharisees, "It's gonna take money. A whole lot of spending money."

Let's contrast Judas with Mary. Matthew and Mark just say it was "a woman" who brought the oil for Jesus. But John names her as Mary. Contrary to what you have heard, this woman was NOT a prostitute, nor was she Mary Magdalene. She was Mary of Bethany, sister of Martha and Lazarus. Now this same Mary is the one who is mentioned as sitting at Jesus feet listening to him while her sister Martha fretted about getting things ready. Martha said, "Jesus, tell Mary to get over here and help me!" but Jesus says, "Why are you worrying so much, Martha? Mary chose the better part." Side note: Jesus is not saying don't work, or don't treat your guests well when they come over. In another story where a different woman similarly blesses him, he calls out the host for providing no water to wash his feet. But Jesus was friends with these women, and he was pointing out Martha was getting TOO concerned with appearances and the work. She was only getting stressed, instead of enjoying the visit from Jesus.

Jesus blesses Mary again here for having a righteous perspective. Her mind was set on the moment right there, and on Jesus. Sometimes we allow ourselves to get worked up over "what if" scenarios. Or sometimes we talk ourselves out of something good. Some Christians can cause pastors grief over what they consider wasted resources. It's a good thing to help the needy; but sometimes these Christians are missing the bigger picture of what God wants for the church right then. And probably some of them, like Judas, are thinking from their own selfishness. But Mary's focus was always on Jesus. She just wanted to be close to him, and do for him. And sometimes that takes time.

So what have you got your mind set on? Is it set on selfish desires, like Judas the thief? Or at the very least, is it distorted by the voice of people who sound reasonable but are not thinking with righteous insight? There were those who were swayed by Judas' vocal objections.

Is your mind set on what Satan is desiring for you? Judas gave in to this manipulation. Jesus said a little later that Satan was also after Peter, wanting to "sift him as wheat", but Jesus prayed that his faith would be strong. Satan wanted to shake Peter apart, shatter his faith and scatter him from Jesus. And this is Satan's desire for all those who would live godly in Christ Jesus. Don't allow your mind to be confused, or believe the lie that you are thinking "clearer now".

Or is your mind set on Jesus like Mary's was? She only appears a few times in the gospel, but each time she remains a role model for her simple devotion to Jesus. She was willing to give at great expense for him. She wanted to spend time with him. She was tuned in to what God was doing.

I know the George Harrison song can get annoying and stuck in your head, but that's part of my intent here. When you find it going through your head in the middle of the day, think about what you've got your mind set on. I hope you can think on God and say, "I got my mind set on You."


  1. The anointing of Jesus with the expensive oil of spikenard indeed happened at the home of "Simon" as you mention. It is interesting that according to John 6:71, Judas Iscariot was "Simon's son". Now, granted, there were a LOT of men named Simon (including Peter) but I wonder if this incident happened at Judas' father's home and he felt that somehow his father was "dissed"; AND that may have contributed to why Judas spoke out critically against the woman (Mary) anointing Jesus- although I agree with EVERYTHING you wrote; I'm just throwing that in as an added detail.

  2. I wondered also if this particular Simon was Judas' father (seems no other reason for John to mention it there), but wasn't sure it was worth pointing out.