If Judas had lived …

Matthew 27: 5 records that Judas, ‘went away and hanged himself’ having become full of remorse at seeing the result of his actions. The remaining eleven disciples elected a replacement for Judas by taking a vote amongst themselves. And so Matthias was chosen. But what if Judas had lived? What if his remorse led to his begging forgiveness of his brothers – and sisters? What if the eleven and their more loyal female companions decided that Judas had simply acted on the doubts about Jesus that they all shared?

These ‘what if …’ scenarios are interesting, but, ultimately, they tend to be not just hypothetical, but also speculative. However, ‘what if’ a real-life Judas was able to share his thoughts?

In 1966 Mao Zedong launched a Cultural Revolution in China. His perception was that Communism needed to be enforced and that the way to do this was to remove any vestiges of China’s historical and cultural heritage. There were echoes of earlier movements in the USSR and Nazi Germany as family members were encouraged to give up other members of the family who were not ‘on message’. Persecution was wide-spread and it was stated in court in the trial of the Gang of Four that 729,511 people had been persecuted, of whom 34,800 were said to have died. These are certainly conservative estimates as it is estimated that between 1966 and 1969 half a million people were killed.

One of those who died was Fang Zhongmou. She was 44 when she was beaten and arrested. She was forced to kneel in front of a crowd while her ‘crimes’ were denounced before she was taken outside of town and shot.

The similarity between Fang’s story and that of Jesus is uncanny – including the execution outside the town. One difference is that Jesus was betrayed by a friend. Fang Zhongmou was betrayed by her 16-year-old son.

Now aged 60, Zhang Hongbing is seeking to atone for what he did by telling his mother’s story. Fang was cleared of her crime – tearing down a poster and accusing Chairman Mao of encouraging a personality cult around himself – in 1980 and a headstone was erected where she had been buried.

WWJD? What would Judas do? Would he tell the story of Jesus? Would he, like Paul, have become a changed man and an advocate for faith in the Risen Messiah? Would Judas have been challenged as, on the lakeside, Peter was challenged by Jesus? Of course, we cannot know, but I’m sure he would have been – and is – forgiven, because that’s what Jesus does.