Little Things (Day 37)
In the opening sequences of one of my favorite movies of all time, The Lord Of The Rings: Return of the King, we are given a brief history of the character we have come to know as Gollum. At this stage in the story, though, he's a little different. Through the first and second movies, Gollum has been depicted as a small, emaciated, sneaky creature, but here he is none of those. In these opening moments Gollum is . . . well . . . healthy. To be honest, he looks like a completely different character. In this brief moment of backstory, we learn Gollum wasn't always Gollum. There was a time when he was called "Smeagol," and he enjoyed simple things, like fishing with his brother.
But everything goes wrong.
If you're familiar with the story, you remember. Enticed by the Ring, Smeagol is seemingly possessed with greed, and the scene climaxes with him killing his own brother to take the Ring for himself. It's painful to watch. Uncomfortable, partially because it's over such a small thing. "Such a little thing," to quote the character Boromir from the same story.
It reminds me that we, too, betray Jesus for little things.
It is Wednesday of Holy Week—classically named, "Spy Wednesday”—and my thoughts are drawn to Judas and The Lord Of The Rings. Tradition says this is the day Judas went to the chief priests and asked, "What will you give me if I deliver him over to you?” (Matt. 26:15)
What will you give me if I deliver him over to you?
In other words, “There is a price for which I will betray Jesus; can you deliver it?” For Judas, that price was 30 pieces of silver. Thirty little things to betray Jesus. This detail seems insignificant, but don't we do the same thing? Don't we all have a price or a thing or a desire or a career or a relationship or a dream that we sell Jesus out for, only to realize in the end that the thing we got was nothing compared to Christ? Don't we all trade little things for Christ?
Many have condemned Judas over the years, accusing him of weakness, of "apostasy," of not having enough faith; I beg to differ. Judas' response—despair—was the right one. Some of the most horrifying moments are when we suddenly "wake up," and realize we've traded Jesus away for some "little thing." In those moments, we become like Judas, seized with remorse (Matt 27:3).
I think the story of Judas resonates because sometimes our stories end like his. Sometimes there is no happy ending. Sometimes the fog is too thick, the despair simply too heavy; sometimes death sings the final song of the night. So we get it. But we also forget what Judas forgot, that death isn't the end of Jesus' story. That Jesus knows our despair. That all our betrayals don’t—and can’t—derail resurrection.
(Spoilers!) As any fan knows, the story of Smeagol doesn't end well. Smeagol, now transformed into the creature Gollum, plunges to his death clinging to the ring. It's a sobering picture of the price we pay when we cling to our little things. They destroy us. And ain't that a reflection of the truth; all of our "little things" are merely idols, overpromising and underdelivering what only God can deliver.
God, in the moments when we, like Judas, fall into despair over our betrayals, let us remember the Jesus who died forgiving his enemies, and resurrected to give even the Smeagols another life. Thank you.
Jesus, if you’re not alive,
call us pitied,
call it off,
call it empty.
But if the tomb is empty,
call us family,
call us finished,
say that our seeking can cease.
you have found him.
You have been found by him.
You are free."
– Levi The Poet