March 21, 2012

Judas: Friend of Jesus?

Jesus is never short on surprising things to say. One such thing comes at the moment he is betrayed by Judas. Matthew 26:50 reads, "Jesus said to him, "Friend, do what you came to do." Friend? Does Jesus really address the one responsible for betraying him to those plotting his cruel destruction as "friend"? What do we do with that?

Well-known preacher and teacher Thomas G. Long suggests that Jesus is speaking ironically and argues that "friend", in the Gospel of Matthew, "means something like 'Buster' and is itself no term of endearment" (Matthew, WJK, 305). He references Matthew 20:13 and 22:12 as other examples in the Gospel where "friend" is used ironically to mean something other than the way it is normally used.

Alternatively, N. T. Wright insists that when Jesus is here using the word "friend" in its normal sense. He says, "It is of course the word 'friend' that causes us to catch our breath. Friendship, for Jesus, does not stop with betrayal, even though now it is tinged wth deep sadness" (Matthew for Everyone, WJK, 2.164). He also says that the Greek sentence above translated as "do what you came to do," could be taken as a question asking, "Do you really want to go through with this?"

What do you think? Is Jesus' address to Judas as "friend" a term of ironic derision? Or might Jesus be demonstrating the ongoing and unconditional nature of his love, even for those who seek to do him harm? Leave a comment with your take on the passage.

4 comments:

ἐκκλησία said...

Even if Jesus was being betrayed by Judas, did he not 'choose' him, did he not spent time with him, conversed with him? Jesus could have loved the one who had betrayed him; just as God loved the people who did not love Him.

Consider:

"Oh, that my people would listen to me,that Israel would walk in my ways!" [Psa 81:13]

Could just as easily be:

"Oh, that my disciple would listen to me, that Judas would walk in my ways!"

And:

He declares his word to Jacob,his statutes and rules to Israel. He has not dealt thus with any other nation; they do not know his rules. Praise the LORD!" [Psa 147:19-20]

Could just as easily be:

He declares his word to Judas, his statues and rules to His disciples. He has not dealt thus with any other followers; they did not know His rules. Praise the LORD!"

Shamby said...

I don't know if irony is the right word, or if sarcasm is a better description for what's going on here in my view. I think the context is relevant for figuring out why Jesus uses the referent "friend". Judas has just betrayed Jesus with a kiss. If I understand correctly, the kiss is not just a social greeting like handshaking...it is more like an honor greeting. Enemies do not kiss, even in politeness. To wipe off a kiss is a severe insult. The kiss, thus, is a kind of gesture of friendship in the Mid-Eastern cultures--not necessarily a gesture of equality, but certainly of respect.

Judas' gross hypocrisy by betraying Jesus with the very gesture that connotes loyalty is, I think, what Jesus sarcastically responds to with the address, "friend". In other words, Jesus is playing naive to the point that Judas' hypocrisy is exposed by Jesus' sarcastic title.

If it is true that Judas was trying to pressure Jesus into assuming a political role Jesus was trying to avoid, then it may be that Judas was under the premise that he was assigning his allegiance to Christ with this kiss despite betraying him, kind of like the ironic opposite of that Hollywood trope of striking a friend for various reasons.

In any case, Luke cannot rely on this kind of innuendo on the lips of Jesus for his Gentile audience. So I think he makes Jesus verbalize the punchline, more or less: "Judas, are you betraying the Son of Man with a kiss?" Lk. 22:48 The meaning is essentially the same in both cases.

A conform interpretation of these two stories at this point would cohere well with the assumption that they came from the same tradition.

All of this lends I think to the credibility of this way of seeing things. But that's my POV.

Thanks Matt, for the post.

Jason B. Hood said...

Hi Matt,

It's a good question! I'm guessing it's a neutral term used to address someone of equal or lower social standing than the speaker, who is treating the addressee as an equal. It's used when something more submissive like "kurie" (Lord) isn't appropriate. (And it can be used in a positive or negative sense.)

Matt O'Reilly said...

Thanks to everyone for your thoughtful and interesting comments!