Lady Gaga Loves Judas – What About Jesus?
Those of you who keep an eye on pop culture may have heard about a recent controversy stirred up by Lady Gaga. In a stroke of marketing genius, the world-famous pop star (and Madonna protégé) recently released her new single called “Judas,” just in time for Holy Week.
The song is written from the perspective of Mary Magdalene professing her love for Judas. From a biblical and historical standpoint, it is clearly a work of creative fiction. However, as songs often do, “Judas” seems to contain thinly veiled autobiographical elements. Lady Gaga sings, “Jesus is my virtue, Judas is the demon I cling to.”
When I read these lyrics, I couldn’t help but think of St. Paul’s words to the Romans, “I do not understand my own actions, for I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.”
This is not a concept that Christians are called to celebrate, as Lady Gaga seems to, reveling over and over, “I’m in love with Judas.” However, there is no question that Christians share in this universal struggle to resist temptation and sin. When we fall we are called to confess our sins. St. John assures us that when we do, God who is faithful and just, will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness (I John 1.9).
This is much easier said than done.
When we sin, it can be very difficult to believe and accept the reality that God actually does love us and will forgive us. The devil loves to take our feelings of shame and unworthiness, and use them to draw us in to even further sin.
In “Judas”, Lady Gaga sings, “In the most biblical sense, I am beyond repentance.” When it comes to repentance, no one is ever beyond the point of no return; not in this life.
However, the very fact that this line appears in a song by a celebrity points us toward the truth hidden underneath the lie. Feeling “beyond repentance” is actually the sin of pride working under the guise of self-pity.
If I determine that I am beyond repentance — that I can no longer turn from my sin and be saved — then I am placing myself above God, saying that He does not have the capacity to love me, to forgive me, and to receive me back into His arms. No, we are the ones who put conditions on love, not God. We are the ones who, in our own shame and unworthiness feel that it would not be right and just for God to continue to love us. And while we may not blare out this sin in a song on MTV, we may still need to confront it in our own hearts.
The chorus of Lady Gaga’s song is simply, “I’m in love with Judas.” In a recent interview, the singer, whose given name is Stefani Germanotta, talked about what this song represents for her. She said, “‘Judas’ is about constantly walking toward the light in my life, always clutching on to the light – while peering towards the devil in the back.” For her, the character of Judas represents all the temptation, darkness, and evil that she is attracted to.
Please understand that I am in no way endorsing or promoting this song. Stefani is using the power of the gospel story to increase her personal fame. Indeed this notion of being in love with Judas has upset many Christians and religious leaders, which in turn has created quite a buzz about the song (which is all part of the marketing genius). I pray that Stefani accepts the reality that she is not beyond repentance; that Jesus loves her as much as he loves you and me; and that his love is stronger than the temptation of sin and the power of death.
Rather, in discussing the song, I am turning her move on its head – using her fame to illustrate the power of the gospel story.
Because I think this song provides the perfect opportunity to make the critical point that Jesus, in fact, also loves Judas.
Not, of course, in the sense that Lady Gaga means. In her song Judas represents temptation and darkness. But in truth Judas was a human being, just like you and me. And in truth, Jesus loved Judas with the very same love that he has for you and for me, for every human being.
It fact, it sounds kind of crazy, but it is actually in Jesus’ love for Judas that we are able to see clearly the very essence of God’s love for humanity; of what I would like to call True Love itself.
How does this work?
Let’s start with Judas. At face value, it is reasonable to conclude that Judas did not deserve to be loved by Jesus. He did not deserve to be loved by the very friend and Messiah whom he betrayed.
But the mystical events which we celebrate on Maundy Thursday, as we journey with Jesus on his final steps toward the Cross, Jesus shows us that True Love is not a fair trade.
In his washing of the feet of his disciples, and in his breaking of bread with them, Jesus shows us that True Love is not a trade at all. It is not a transaction, but an action. True Love is not a barter or an exchange; it is a free gift of the Lover to his beloved; a gift that does not seek its own; that does not seek any return.
This is the essence of God’s love for us.
There is no one who deserves True Love, because True Love is not something that can be deserved. It is not contingent on the worthiness or merit of the beloved.
This is indeed Good News, because if God’s love were earned, none of us could afford it. But God’s love is not to be earned; it is only to be accepted, and returned.
There are some days when this may seem like common sense. But there are other times when it doesn’t – when we are tempted to fall into the trap of feeling so unworthy of God’s love… that we are unable to accept it.
Peter starts to go down this road. When he sees Jesus approaching with the pitcher of water and the basin, he says, “You shall never wash my feet.” He does not feel worthy. It does not seem right. It should be Peter who is washing Jesus’ feet, not the other way around. But Jesus answers, “If I do not wash you, you have no part in me.” What he is saying to Peter is, “If you do not accept my love, then how can we be in relationship? And how can you share this love with others?” And Peter, understanding now what Jesus is offering, rightly responds, worthiness be darned! “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!”
It is OK to feel unworthy of God’s love. God does not love us because we are worthy. He loves us in spite of our unworthiness.
In fact, our unworthiness is the principal ingredient of True Love.
It is precisely because we are unworthy, that makes God’s love what it is. The nature of God’s love is revealed in the fact that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us. (Romans 5.8).
We see this mind-boggling goodness and True Love of God in Jesus’ relationship with Judas.
Jesus knew full well the betrayal that was in Judas’ heart. And yet, he knelt down at the foot of his enemy, took those dirty feet in his loving hands, and washed them all the same.
In this action, we see the essence of God’s love for humanity.
True Love is not deserved, but rather it serves.
A Lover is a servant; but not all servants are lovers.
One who is forced to serve is not a lover, but a slave.
But one who chooses to serve is not a slave, but a lover.
Jesus chose to serve; to wash the feet of his disciples, and to lay down his own life that the world, through him, might live.
Jesus loves Judas. Jesus loves Lady Gaga. And Jesus loves you and me. Not because any of us deserve his love, but because that’s what Jesus does, because that’s who God is.
Maundy Thursday is the celebration of God’s True Love for us, manifested in Our Lord Jesus Christ; in his washing of feet and in his breaking of bread.
“Maundy” comes from the Latin mandatum or commandment, from Jesus’ charge: “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” “You also,” Jesus says, “should do as I have done to you.”
It is essential that we understand the nature of God’s True Love. Because if we do not understand it, or if we are unable to accept it, then how are we to share this love with others as Jesus has commanded us to do?
Let us not turn away from Christ’s love for fear that we don’t deserve it, as Peter was tempted to do. Rather let us embrace God’s True Love for us; that our unworthy hearts might be cleansed by his loving grace.
That we in turn might love and serve one another, with gladness and singleness of heart; through Christ Our Lord. Amen.