In the movie Mary Magdalene, Judas is portrayed as a very loyal disciple, with an extremely strong faith. One thing he believes in particularly strongly, is that Jesus will bring in the New Kingdom of God (in this he was not mistaken) but unlike Mary – who understand that “the Kingdom of God is like a mustard seed,” which starts out as something tiny, but slowly takes root, until it grows and takes over everything – Judas believes that Jesus will bring in the promised Kingdom of God with a flash. Instantaneously. The tyrannical Roman empire will crumble before their eyes, all oppression will cease, hunger will end, peace will reign on earth, and the dead will live again. All Jesus has to do (so Judas thinks) is say the word, and this promised Kingdom will be rolled out before us. Judas will be reunited with his wife and daughter, who died of starvation under the tyranny of the Romans, justice will be restored, no more suffering, no more hunger, no more oppression, all will live in peace, none will harbor hatred or cause destruction. Oh, Judas can’t wait for this day! But why is Jesus stalling? Why isn’t he bringing in this kingdom? Now?
Judas’ motive for betraying Jesus (in the Mary Magdalene movie) is that he believes his betrayal of Jesus will hasten the coming of God’s Kingdom (again, in a way he was right, but again, not in the way he thought). He believes that if Jesus is captured, this will force him to use his magnificent powers (which they had already seen signs of – with miraculous healings and raising a person from the dead) to save himself and bring in the Kingdom. But this doesn’t happen. (or at least, Judas can’t see it like that). All he sees is Jesus, his beloved savior to whom he had given his whole life, in whom he had invested all his hope, bloody and hanging from a cross. Dead. Because of him. Meanwhile, he sees no sign of the promised kingdom. Oppression still reigns, cruelty goes on, people are still dying of hunger, peace is far to be found. Judas, plagued with guilt and lose of hope, hangs himself.
But Jesus comes back, and reveals himself first to Mary (of Magdalene). He tells her that the beginning of the Kingdom has come (that which Judas kept begging him to do. “make it begin! Make it begin! Now!). The (mustard) seed has been planted. In the hearts of those who believe, a seed will be planted, and its fruits will be kindness, patience, gentleness, mercy, compassion, forgiveness, until a full orchard grows, chocking out all hatred, greed, selfishness, self-righteousness, fear, shame, resentment, pride & arrogance. And the Kingdom of God will stand. (well, Jesus, in the movie, didn’t say it exactly like that. Those poetic (or prophetic?) words just rolled out of my pen just now).
And now I want so desperately to help build up and bring in this kingdom. For Judas’ sake. Who wished for it so fervently.
So for Judas’ sake: Be kind to one another. choose mercy and compassion, over judgement and shame; seek and extend forgiveness, over retaliations and/or self-pity and shame; be humble in spirit and generous in love and kindness, rather than braggadocious and self-serving. Fight for justice, live in peace, feed the hungry, forgive your enemies and seek forgiveness of those you have wronged. Why are we stalling? Why aren’t we bringing in the kingdom? Now? For Judas’ sake.
But for God’s/ Jesus’ sake: Don’t expect this power (to choose mercy and compassion, etc.) to come from within yourself. Don’t rely on your own strength, goodness, or righteousness. You’ll only let yourself down eventually (if someone else, or the world, doesn’t kill your spirit before than), and give up on this whole “magic kingdom” idea. Becoming ashamed of yourself and the blood on your hands, like Judas (even when you tried/as you were trying so hard to be good and do the right thing). Or you go on in self-righteousness, while feeling empty or resentful inside.
Ask God to plant the seed in you, and to strengthen you along the way. Seek His guidance, his Holy Spirit in you every day, which will steer you toward, and strengthen you in, choosing mercy and compassion, etc. Continuously seek forgiveness. Admit your mistakes to God, yourself, and the one’s you may have hurt. Continuously extend forgiveness, kindness and compassion to others. Don’t let any mistake or transgression, on your part or the ones that may have been done to you, grow into shame and vulnerability, leading to conflict with (within) yourself, with others, and estrangement from the God of love, mercy, compassion, forgiveness, who believes in you and want you to be whole and to experience his full kingdom within you, sharing it’s fruits with others, and becoming part of the orchard. The Kingdom of God on earth.
Theological side note: Some Christians believe that the only Kingdom of Heaven, is the one we (or some of us, under certain conditions. Beliefs on this vary) go to after we die. That the only Heaven we need to prepare for/work toward, or make sure we get into, is the one that is waiting for us after death. And that the whole reason Jesus came and died, is so that we can be part of this Kingdom of Heaven, after we die. In this Heaven, and this Heaven alone, hunger will cease, pain will end, the things we lived, died, and killed for and thought were so important to earn or prove, and all of our differences (between rich and poor, male or female, one religion or another) will no longer matter, and all will live in peace. In their eyes, preaching about peace on earth, or rallying people to create this kind of heaven on earth, is pure heresy. In their eyes, all ‘we as Christians’ are called to do, is “keep our eyes focused on Heaven,” and not be distracted by the temptations of this earth, including the syropy sounding ones, about love and peace on earth.
Others believe we alone are responsible for creating a kind of ‘heaven on earth.’ A new age of peace. To put an end to all corruption, injustice, hunger and warfare. And if they believe anything about Jesus, it’s that he must have been a good man, or some kind of prophet. Quite radical for his time – in his believes about defending the poor and marginalized, fighting corruption and greed, loving your enemies, radically withholding retaliation or judgement, and extending forgiveness and grace. But, in their eyes, (other) Christians have misused his name and twisted his message. In their eyes, “Those Christians” have foolishly elevated the Kingdom he was preaching about, to a place above the clouds, while we should be living it here on earth.
But I say: Why can’t it be both? There is a Heaven in Heaven, which we go to after we die (and which, I believe, Jesus has opened up for us/granted us access to). But Heaven has also come down to earth, when Jesus came. He “began it” and he asked us to continue to spread the Kingdom of Heaven – through our love, kindness, compassion, forgiveness – on earth. As it is in Heaven.
I believe very strongly that there is a perfect Heaven, which we go to after we die. But for those who have not experienced it, I understand that such abstract ideas of Heaven, Holy Spirit might be difficult to grasp or have faith in. If that’s the case, just being kind to each other is a good start. The rest will come. So if John Lennon’s version of peace on earth is easier for you to “imagine” (pun fully intended ;) ), and inspires you to do good and be kind, I’m not going to call you a heretic or “wolf in sheeps clothing.” (That label is reserved for those who claim to be very religious but have no love or compassion to show for it, who’s hearts are full of greed and resentment).
But I will hold strongly to my own faith that there is a true and perfect Heaven, in Heaven, and part of its light is now also on earth (through/because of Jesus) and we can, and should, spread it further, with our love, kindness, compassion, forgiveness, grace, mercy, humility, to build up the Kingdom of Heaven (also) on earth.
To be honest, I think it’s a dangerous trap to live for only one and ignore the other.
In my mind, I cannot separate the two heavens. The one needs the other. The vision and imprint of the perfect Heaven, that is waiting for me after I die, gives me hope and keeps me humble – reminding me that this is not all there is. That those who think they are so high and mighty and intimidating here on earth, are, in the kingdom of Heaven, as insignificant, and yet as magnificent, as everybody else (and that I am just like them. No greater. No less). That another A+ on a report card, a standing ovation, or a pay check in the bank, means nothing in the kingdom of Heaven. But that smile, that word of kindness and encouragement, that helping hand, does. But the call to bring Heaven down to earth, to spread the light and the Kingdom, adds the oomph. It gives me the courage and the push to keep going. Otherwise, I would probably rather lock myself away in my room, or some mountain in Tibet, dreaming of Heaven, just waiting to be reeled back in. Afraid and discouraged by all the evils in the world. (and the same result would happen if I believed in the call to create heaven on Earth, wanted to make the world a better place, but did not know the True Heaven, or have the faith that part of it is already here, and in me (and others), through Jesus. Sometimes you see it, sometimes you don’t. But the Kingdom Is here. now. And in the end, it will rule over everything).