Let’s Talk About Suicide. Judas Iscariot, Kate Spade, and Anthony Bourdain: We are to Have Good Hope for All!, Matthew 27:3-10

Sermon:          Judas Iscariot, Kate Spade, and Anthony Bourdain: We Are to Have Good Hope for All!
Scripture:        Matthew 27.3-10
Preacher:        Patrick H. Wrisley, D.Min.
Location:         First Pres Fort Lauderdale
Date:                 June 17, 2018, Father’s Day

This morning, we are going to be looking at a text, which I must admit, I have never preached on before.  Turn in your Bible to Matthew 27: 3-20.  We are deviating from the lectionary text in order to look at an issue that has been in the news the past few weeks.  We are going to frame our thoughts around the title, “Judas Iscariot, Kate Spade, and Anthony Bourdain:  We Are to Have Good Hope for All” this morning, we are going to address the issue of suicide and see what scripture might have to say.

Our community in Broward County knows all too well the pain from senseless deaths.  On Valentine’s Day this year, 17 people were gunned down at a Parkland High School which has lit the fires nationally as a debate for common sense gun laws.  According to the Washington Post, 141 children, educators, and bystanders have been killed in our schools with another 287 injured.[1]  Our country is up in arms over such a statistic as well it should be!  The media and our politicians have been vocal on what some have called an epidemic.  As horrible as those numbers are, did you know that in 2017 alone, 45,000 died from suicide?[2]  Sixty-two percent or roughly 28,000 of those people died from self-inflicted gunshot wounds.[3]  The majority who harm themselves are male but the number of women in middle age is expanding quickly.[4]  To put it in perspective, the number of people who die by suicide in our country is about one third (1/3) of the total population of the city limits of Fort Lauderdale.  Where’s the press on that?  Where is the civil discourse and angst about that?  I’ll tell you where it is; its’ buried in the fact for why we don’t have many sermons on Matthew 27: 3-10 because the issue of suicide is one of those taboo topics.  As a result of the stigma placed upon those who choose self-harm and destruction, we choose not to talk about it until someone famous like Kate Spade or Anthony Bourdain do the unthinkable.  Our silence on the subject simply adds to the stigma of surrounding it.  Beloved, we can ill-afford to be silent any longer as our silence only contributes to spiritual, social and emotional misunderstandings of suicide.  Let’s look at our text in Matthew.  It’s a text we know about but often skip over:

Matthew 27.3-10

When Judas, his betrayer, saw that Jesus was condemned, he repented and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders. He said, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.” But they said, “What is that to us? See to it yourself.” Throwing down the pieces of silver in the temple, he departed; and he went and hanged himself. But the chief priests, taking the pieces of silver, said, “It is not lawful to put them into the treasury, since they are blood money.” After conferring together, they used them to buy the potter’s field as a place to bury foreigners. For this reason that field has been called the Field of Blood to this day. Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah, “And they took the thirty pieces of silver, the price of the one on whom a price had been set, on whom some of the people of Israel had set a price, 10 and they gave them for the potter’s field, as the Lord commanded me.”[5]

As we look at this text, I am in no way saying what Judas did was right, either in betraying Jesus or in taking his own life.  I do believe, however, Judas’ story gives those of us in the Christian community a better understanding as to why he chose the path he did.  Our text is illustrative.

Judas comes as a man saturated with guilt and shame.  His fervent hopes for who and what Jesus was to be and do were not realized.  He knows he lived as a disciple but like many in the church today, his name was on the rolls, but he didn’t really know what discipleship meant for him.  When his role as a disciple didn’t mesh with what Jesus intended, Judas quickly bailed out and arranged for Jesus’ arrest.  In the ensuing time between selling Jesus out and coming back to the religious authorities, Judas’ spirit was crushed and overwhelmed.  The horrible weight of what he had done and the pain it was causing Judas became intolerable, and Judas, with the mantle of guilt and shame tries to do something about it.  When Judas saw that his actions were going to cost Jesus His life, Judas’ despair drove him to action.  What does our text say?

The first thing our text says in verse 3 is that when Judas saw the outcomes of his selfishness, he repented.  Isn’t that what Jesus wants all people to do? Repent?  Judas in his spiritual and emotional crisis turned around 180⁰ in the other direction.  He fully embraced and acknowledged his selfishness.  The word for “repent” Matthew uses is one that describes a turning around because of deep shame and sadness; in other words, it’s a word that indicates a deep remorse for what he did.

The second reality we note is that Judas didn’t keep his remorse to himself. He goes to the Jewish religious leaders and tries to make restitution for what he did.  He tries to give back the 30 pieces of silver he sold Jesus out for in the first place.  In his state of mind, in the despairing swamp of pain in his soul, he tried to rectify the problem the only way he knew how.

Judas then does a third thing:  He publicly confesses his sin to the religious authorities and the Chief Priest.  He publicly admitted his sin against Jesus to the very ones who in Jewish law could forgive him.  He’s doing what Jesus told many others to do:  go and show yourself to the chief priests.  And it’s right here that all the wheels fall off the wagon.

Judas repents, tries to recompense for his actions, and then publicly confesses his sin to the chief priests.  He admits he has sinned by betraying innocent blood and then the ones who had the power and ability to forgive him, to release him from his burden, did what?  They smugly reply in verse 4, “What is that to us? See to it yourself!”  What does that mean, “See to it yourself”? The religious community had trusted in, the community who encouraged him to commit the sin of betrayal in the first place gives him the flippant answer, “It’s your problem; deal with it yourself.”  It’s at this point, beloved, we have in scripture an anatomy of suicide.

A broken person gives off signals they are in pain and seeks those in their community for help.  The people in the trusted community either can’t see the pain or chooses to ignore the pain in the other.  Judas the betrayer and the shattered, when ignored by the people in his community, withdraws to be all by himself.  It’s in that moment of sheer loneliness and despair that he takes his own life.  This Story that’s already full of so much pain and tragedy only becomes more mired in even greater pain and tragedy.  What can we learn from all this, beloved?

We learn that Judas’ suicide is not the unforgivable sin our culture and faith traditions have made it be.  Jesus in Mark 3: 29 tells us the only unforgivable sin is blasphemy against the Holy Spirit.  Suicide is not the unpardonable sin, so brothers and sisters, we need to have good hope for all!  Suicide is the result of a mental illness whereby a person cannot physiologically or emotionally to handle the onslaught of pain and despair in their lives. When a person feels that level of loneliness and hopelessness, he or she takes things into their own hands.  As a person who struggles with PTSD and my own mental illness, I can tell you that depression is one of the most narcissistic conditions known to humanity.  When you are lost in the mire of depression, you cannot see or hear anyone other than yourself. The lonely, depressed, hopeless person is reduced to being only focused on his or her pain and despair. It’s hard to see or hear others. In their minds, no one can understand what they are experiencing; as a result, they withdraw from others and their psyche runs away from them.  Suicide is caused by a brokenness, an illness, in our human condition.  It is not an unforgivable sin but it’s a sin and lack of confidence in God nonetheless.

We also learn from our text that those who do harm themselves are in desperate need of intentional, caring community.  As a faith community and as a culture, we must stop stigmatizing mental illness. We stigmatize mental illness when we tell hopeless people, “Quit feeling sorry for yourself and just pull yourself up by your bootstraps.”

We stigmatize mental illness when our insurance systems see it solely as a behavioral issue apart from its biological and physiological consequences and treat it as a lesser medical condition such as cancer or diabetes.

We stigmatize mental illness when we trivially call people “nut jobs” or “whackos”.

We stigmatize mental illness when we see it as something to be ashamed of and hidden and never talked about in our families or churches.

As a faith community, we are on notice not to repeat the sin of the chief priests and blow people off who show signs of emotional brokenness and leave them alone to figure it out on their own.  Our silence on this matter and pretending it does not exist is no longer an option.  So, Church, what are we to do?

Let’s be alert to those in our communities and circles of influence.  Do those we know all of a sudden seem grossly overwhelmed by life’s circumstances?  Do they forget details for the easy-to-remember items? Are they tired all the time and complain of not enough rest? Is there a change in their eating habits? Well, then talk with them about it.

Are there people you know who seem to have uncharacteristically withdrawn into themselves at work, home or at school? These are the people who are usually in the middle of a crowd working the room but now they are sitting off by themselves along the wall. These are the students or employees who typically are first to chime in on new projects and ideas but lately, they have become more silent, maybe even sullen. Then talk with them about your observations.  Check in with them and see how they’re doing.

Have you spent time with someone and the words they use to describe their life and situation seem so dark and heavy they are unable to see any light or hope?  Are they using a lot of first-person pronouns like “I” or “me” in their conversations?  Are their discussions loaded with superlatives like “should” or
“must.”[6]  Then lovingly look them in the eyes and quietly ask, “You seem pretty overwhelmed right now; have you thought of hurting yourself?”  If they hesitate or say ‘yes,’ then assure them you will walk with them until they are feeling whole again as you help them find clinical help and guidance.

Church, we have to be looking out for and listening to each other.  Ultimately, what a suicidal person chooses to do or not is totally up to them and is their responsibility; if a person is going to go and do a selfish act of self-harm, then there is nothing you can do about it.  Yet, you and I are the embodiment of patient, grace-full love to other sheep like us who are broken and weighed down.  Let’s pledge to be more attentive to the bleating sheep whose cries are cries of pain and let them know all hear them.  We may not be able to “fix” their pain, but at least we can embody Jesus as they go through it.  If you or someone you know is talking, thinking or fantasizing about self-harm, please let me know.  For you see, because we have a friend like Jesus, we are to have good hope for all.

Patrick H. Wrisley, D.Min.
Senior Pastor & Teaching Elder
First Pres Fort Lauderdale
401 SE 15th Avenue
Fort Lauderdale, FL 33301
Wrisley@outlook.com
Wrisley.org

© 2018 Patrick H. Wrisley. Sermon manuscripts are available for the edification of members and friends of First Presbyterian Church of Fort Lauderdale, Florida and may not be altered, re-purposed, published or preached without permission.   All rights reserved.

[1] John Woodrow Cox, Steven Rich, Allyson Chiu, John Muyskens and Monica Ulmanu, More than 215,000 students have experienced gun violence at school since Columbine, The Washington Post, May 25, 2018.  Accessed on 6/14/2018 at https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/2018/local/school-shootings-database/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.71568092eaf0.

[2] Ritu Prasad, Why US Suicide Rate is on the Rise, BBC News, June 8, 2018.  Accessed 6/14/18 at

[3] Ibid.

[4] Rhitu Chatterjee, US Suicide Rates are Rising Faster Among Women than Men, NPR, June 14, 2018. Accessed on 6/14/18 at  https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2018/06/14/619338703/u-s-suicides-rates-are-rising-faster-among-women-than-men

[5] The New Revised Standard Version, copyright 1989, 1995 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

[6] Elizabeth Bernstein, The Words That Can Signal if You’re Depressed, The Wall Street Journal, June 11, 2018.  Accessed on 6/14/18 at https://www.wsj.com/articles/the-words-that-can-signal-youre-depressed-1528724000.

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