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Offering God’s Word of Grace

Nadia Bolz-Weber


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After Peter denied Jesus, he experienced Easter, but after Judas betrayed Jesus, he bought a field, tripped and fell, and his guts burst open. He died alone in a field of blood. He died knowing that he was a sinner and perhaps thinking that God did not want him.

There was no Easter for Judas. There was no Resurrection. There was no light shining which the darkness could not overcome. ... He chose death before seeing that death was done for. Our brother Judas.

But was what he did so unforgivable? How is it that Judas, who betrayed Jesus once and was filled with remorse, became the villain, while Peter, who denied Jesus three times and wept bitterly, became the rock on which the church was built? When it comes down to it, what is the difference between Peter and Judas? Well, maybe nothing. And maybe there’s not a whole lot of difference between us and them too.

But we get to share something with Peter that Judas never got to experience and it’s the thing that could have made all the difference. In Judas’s isolation, he never availed himself of the means of grace. Judas carried with him into that field the burden of not experiencing God’s grace because he was removed from the community in which he could hear it. In Judas’s ears there never was placed a word of grace. And let me tell you, that’s not something the sinner can create for him or herself. It is next to impossible in isolation to manufacture the beautiful, radical grace that flows from the heart of God to God’s broken and blessed humanity. As human beings, there are many things we can create for ourselves: entertainment, stories, pain, toothpaste, maybe even positive self-talk. But it is difficult to create this thing that frees us from the bondage of self.

We cannot create for ourselves God’s word of grace. We must tell it to each other. It’s a terribly inconvenient and oftentimes uncomfortable way for things to happen. Were we able to receive the word of God through pious, private devotion – through quiet personal time with God – the Christian life would be far less messy. But, as Paul tells us, faith comes through hearing, and hearing implies having someone right there doing the telling.

Sometimes this comes in the form of someone reminding us of God’s weirdly gracious nature – like when my friend Caitlin said, “Nadia, Jesus died for our sins. Including that one” – and sometimes it comes in the form of a spoken confession and absolution. But sometimes, I believe that God’s word of grace can also come through simple, imperfect, everyday human love.

Leonardo da Vinci: Heads of Judas and Peter Leonardo da Vinci, Heads of Judas and Peter
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Contributed By Nadia Bolz-Weber

Nadia Bolz-Weber is the founding pastor of House for All Sinners and Saints in Denver, Colorado. This reading is from her latest book, Accidental Saints (Convergent Books, 2015).

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