WEDNESDAY IN HOLY WEEK – 20 April 2011
Trinity – 5:30 p.m.
Isaiah 50:4-9a | Psalm 70 | John 13:21-32
After receiving the piece of bread, [Judas] immediately went out. And it was night.
Judas Iscariot has become a byword for treachery. He is "The Traitor" - not so much in the political sense as in the personal -- the betrayer, the breaker of trust. Even in the Gospels themselves Judas becomes something of a stock villain.
What about Judas? Why did he do it? It's interesting to speculate, so long as we remember that there really isn't very much evidence, and what there is comes from what we might describe as hostile witnesses. Did he do it for the money? Only Matthew mentions the thirty pieces of silver, which was more than pocket change, but hardly a huge fortune and not really a convincing motive (it’s really a reference to the book of the prophet Zechariah [11:12-13]). John explains that Satan had entered into Judas, which may be true enough, but it isn’t very specific.
So why? Why this primordial, archetypal act of betrayal, from one who had presumably accompanied Jesus as disciple and companion for months, perhaps years? If Judas had simply become convinced that Jesus was wrong, why not just walk away? If Judas had decided that Jesus was a dangerous fraud, why not just publicly denounce him, and abandon him? Why this nasty, underhanded piece of treachery?
One speculation — and it's just a speculation, there's no evidence for this, but it's not contrary to the evidence — is that Judas had not given up the idea that Jesus was — or could become — the Messiah, the deliverer of Israel, but he thought that Jesus was dinking around. After that splendid beginning with the royal parade on Sunday, now Jesus was about to let it all slip away. He needed a little help, a little prompting, a little management. Jesus needed an occasion to rise to, a crisis to bring out the best in him. Perhaps Judas thought that if Jesus' hand were forced, he really would call on God for twelve legions of angels, and finally get on with driving out the Roman goyim and restore the kingdom to Israel. And only when it was too late did Judas realize what a horrible mistake he had made. But he had too little faith and too much pride for true repentance. So, says St. Matthew, he threw the money at the feet of the priests in the temple and went out and hanged himself in despair.
We commonly see ourselves in the disciples, in the disciples in their weaknesses and frailties and sinfulnesses, and well we should: in Peter, engaging mouth before the brain is in gear, much bluster but not much spine; in James and John, squabbling for the best seats in the kingdom; in Thomas, not quite daring to believe. But not in Judas. Judas is outside the pale. We would never do that. Deny Jesus out of fear, like Peter? Yes, sadly, perhaps. Sell Jesus out, out of greed? I don’t think so.
But try to force God's hand? Try to engineer a divine complicity with our own agenda? Invoke the divine sanction upon our own kingdom? Make God be the kind of God we want God to be? Repackage God for more effective marketing?
Oh, yes, Judas is us.
"If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from the pinnacle of the temple; for it is written, `The angels will bear you up...'"
"Greetings, Rabbi!" and he kissed him. "Will you not now finally appeal to your Father for twelve legions of angels?"
"Do not put the Lord your God to the test."
Satan had indeed entered into Judas Iscariot.