Judas so clearly embodies the pitiful nature of sin. However much sin might try to large it up, the reality is always sad and squalid; a symptom of alienation, of being akosmios, ‘outside the cosmos’. It deserves of our compassion.
The greatest of the Greek philosophers understood this. The greatest of the Greek philosophers understood this. The root meaning of the Greek verb, harmatanō, which in biblical contexts means ‘to sin’, is ‘to miss the mark’, as when an archer misses a target.
For Plato, humans naturally desire the good, and so all wrongdoing is due to ignorance and as such an expression of deficiency. To commit evil is to wound and deform our soul, the most important part of us. It is always better to suffer wrong than to do wrong. The Stoic philosopher Epictetus teaches:
‘“Ought not this brigand, then, and this adulterer to be put to death?” you ask. Not at all, but you should ask rather, “Ought not this man to be put to death who is in a state of error and delusion about the greatest matters, and is in a state of blindness, not, indeed, in the vision which distinguishes between white and black, but in the judgement which distinguishes between the good and the evil?” And if you put it this way, you will realise how inhuman a sentiment it is you are uttering, and that it is just as if you should say, “Ought not this blind man, then, or this deaf man to be put to death?”’
Illustrations from Strasbourg Cathedral: Judas the pitiful is shown: at supper; hanging on the tree; giving the treacherous kiss. The artist has shown Jesus restoring the servant’s ear in the garden even as he is arrested, but even more mercifully, the Lamb of God is undoing the scarf that Judas used to kill himself, ready to rescue him from Hell’s Mouth.