Matthew 26, Mark 14, and Luke 22 tell the story of Wednesday. It is a plot-twisting day which Luke describes as relatively normal–at first–in Luke 21:
“And every day he was teaching in the temple, but at night he went out and lodged on the mount called Olivet. And early in the morning all the people came to him in the temple to hear him.”
The twist comes in Luke 22 (and the other gospels, too), when Judas decides to betray Jesus and the week suddenly takes on a very different tone. To catch up on what has happened already this week, you can check out this link, which harmonizes the movements of Jesus from all the Gospels.
As for Wednesday and Judas’ decision to work with the authorities to capture Jesus, here is how Matthew puts it:
“Then one of the twelve, whose name was Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and said, ‘What will you give me if I deliver him over to you?’ And they paid him thirty pieces of silver. And from that moment he sought an opportunity to betray him.” (Matthew 26:14-16)
Judas is a hard guy to pin down. The Bible, obviously, does not paint him in a very positive light. But when I read about his plot to betray Jesus, my mind is flooded with questions about this tragic character in the Biblical narrative.
- What were his parents like?
- When did he first decide to betray Christ?
- What did the other disciples think of him?
- Did any of them suspect anything?
- What was his main motivation? Jealousy? Greed? Was he just evil?
Psychoanalyzing Judas is probably an exercise in futility. But I can’t help but wonder…what made his heart beat with such a wicked pulse?
What we know about Judas Iscariot is limited, but this much is available to us:
- He was one of the 12, chosen by Jesus as a disciple
- The Scriptures reveal that his dad’s name was Simon.
- It is possible that Iscariot refers to the town where he came from, or possibly a title associated with his zealous profession–that of a traveling assassin, bent on getting the Romans out of Jewish territory.
- It could also be a posthumous designation, similar to the Hebrew word for “liar,” or the Greek/Aramaic word for “chokiness” or “constriction.” If the remaining disciples gave him this nickname, it’s a cruel nickname indeed.
We don’t know much about his calling to follow Jesus, but John reveals that he was something of the group treasurer. Perhaps his greed began there.
For a man whose name is now synonymous with betrayal, what can we learn from Judas? What can possibly be gleaned of benefit from a person whose life’s defining act was likely the origin of the cliche, “Kiss of death.”
The one truth that emerges to me is that there are many reasons to follow Jesus, and not all of them are the right reasons. We can appear to be devoted, but secretly be plotting our own advantage. We can claim to have faith, even insisting on justice and generosity (see John 12:1-8), when really all we care about is how we look, how much money we have, and where we stand with the worldy authorities.
We don’t know a lot about Judas, but we do know a lot about the condition of the human heart.
It ain’t pretty.
Apart from a true relationship with Christ we are scheming, cynical, selfish individuals who crave the attention of the masses more than the One who truly cares for us. We can assign blame to Judas for what he did, turning over Jesus for 30 pieces of silver. This amount has been valued by some scholars as enough to buy a small farm. In present day parlance, we’re talking $200,000, give or take. In a world where we will go against what we claim to believe for the affection of another human being, a promotion at work, or a greater return on our taxes, perhaps we should pause before putting Judas in a class of his own.
And frankly, whether or not you would betray Jesus for $1 or one million dollars, does it really matter? We are all betrayers in our hearts–turning against God at one point or another because we think we know best. Our price may vary. Our condition does not. We are doomed in our sin.
On Wednesday, Judas decides to betray Jesus. The next day, Jesus stoops to wash his feet.
And though we may be inclined to turn our backs on Christ, we must never forget that he has served and saved us. He continues to love us. He is waiting for us to turn our whole hearts over to him so that we can see that who he is is way better than we could ever dream up for him to be.
Photo Credit: an icon at Damiana Monastery, http://st-takla.org