…is the day for recalling the betrayal by Judas Iscariot, who went to the chief priest to cut a deal for 30 pieces of silver.
Like sin so often does, the 30 pieces was the all-consuming passion for about 15 minutes. It seemed like the most important thing in the world to Judas.
People often ask “Why did Judas do it? Did he hate Jesus that much? What happened?” But the biblical text gives no hint of “hatred” in the sense of some burning grudge or anger at Jesus from Judas. He just… seems to have stopped caring about Jesus, if he ever did. It’s hard to tell. Scripture doesn’t generally do psychoanalysis.
If he had hated Jesus in that sense, he could have killed him in his sleep. Or gone to the chief priests and offered to betray him for nothing. But he didn’t. He specially asked “What will you give me to betray him?” He wanted money. That was the goal. That was the reason. It’s the one and only fact we know about him and it governed his actions, not only on Spy Wednesday, but when Mary of Bethany anointed him and Judas chewed her out for not giving to the poor (meaning him, since he used to help himself to the purse).
Somehow or other, Judas had begun as a follower of Jesus. He may have been a “believer” in the sense of spiritual dilettante who was attracted for a time to the Latest Thing. When Jesus cites Psalm 41 at the Last Supper (“He who ate my bread has lifted his heel against me” (Jn 13:18) he cites a text that prophetically speaks of the traitor as his “bosom friend”. And, of course, in extending the morsel to Judas, he is making a gesture of table fellowship. He gave Judas every opportunity to rethink what he was doing. But Judas was in the grip of a kind of fever, as we are when we set our minds and hearts perversely to sin and follow our own will. Money consumed him. It was the Big Plan. It was going to fix whatever it was Judas thought needed fixing. Everything, including Jesus, needed to be sacrificed to it. He wasn’t thinking “Finally! My revenge on Jesus is complete!” He was thinking “Finally, I will have enough for that new cell phone!”
When Jesus famously rebuked a group of Jews as sons of “your father the devil” (John 8:44) it is crucially important to note that he was speaking not to Pharisees or some other bitter enemy, but to “the Jews who had believed in him” (John 8:31). Why? Because basic Christian catechesis to everybody, Jew and Gentile alike, is that fallen man, Jew and Gentile alike, is “dead through the trespasses and sins … following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience.” (Eph 2:1–2).
For all we know, Judas may have thought Jesus would get a good roughing up from the authorities for the crazy things he’d been saying and that would be it. We know that at least as far back as the Bread of Life discourse, Jesus had been dropping subtle hints to Judas that he knew his faith was failing (“one of you is a devil” (John 6:70)). And it is significant that precisely the sticking point of that crowd is that they could not transcend their interest in earthly gain.
The point is this, it’s very possible that Judas was so focused on the goods he would obtain through money that it never occurred to him what might become of Jesus once he was handed over. It may have been a real shock to him to discover the deadly intent of the Sanhedrin. Or he may have at some level known but just not cared about it in the grip of his fever for money. Sin makes you stupid.
At any rate, somehow or other the gravity of what he had done began to penetrate his mind and heart as the fever broke when he received the object of his obsession and–as always happens–it did not make him happy. At some point he realized that all he had was a bunch of coins and that he was now guilty of Jesus’ blood.
But in his final folly he completed what his pride had begun. When Peter betrayed Jesus just as badly as Judas had, Peter wept but did not despair. He did not make the final stupid choice to say, “I am so uniquely evil that even God cannot forgive me.” At some level, he held on to hope in something or other (who knows how he would have articulated that hope) and simply did not go hang himself.
Judas, having decided at some level that he was the smartest guy in the room and knew the score and had street smarts and money savvy, somehow refused to give up that assessment of himself. He whipsawed from regarding himself as too good to need salvation to being too bad to deserve salvation. It was still all about him. And so, never considering the possibility of Jesus’ mercy just as he had never considered the possibility of Jesus as Lord, he went and hanged himself, his money now completely forgotten, rejected and powerless to save him.
Judas haunts me. God have mercy on his wretched soul.
Father, of your mercy, help me see my sin and where my crazy obsessions with my own will enslave and blind me. Give me light and humility to see my sins and, above all, to see Christ and not ignore him in my monomaniac pursuits of the strange fever of sin. Mother Mary, pray for me that I can say “Be it unto me according your word”. I ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.