Spy Wednesday, is traditionally remembered as the day Judas Iscariot conspired with the chief priests to betray Our Blessed Lord Jesus Christ for thirty pieces of silver; though leading to his own damnation, he may have left a vital message for us.
Why Judas made that tragic decision to betray Our Blessed Lord can only truly be answered by the betrayer himself – and perhaps even he would be unable to offer a sufficient explanation. Judas had walked with Jesus for three years, seen Him perform great miracles and felt the unfathomable love that Our Lord radiated. Yet he still chose to turn his back on the light.
Over the centuries, various scholars have made attempts to rationalize – and humanize Judas’ betrayal of Christ. Though interesting, these attempts to psychoanalyze Judas miss out on the vital lesson to be learned from his example. They make the solution too complicated and risk overlooking a glaring pitfall into which any one of us, given the right circumstances, could indeed stumble.
One commonly accepted explanation is that he was disillusioned when it became apparent that Christ was not going to physically crush the Romans underfoot and restore the Kingdom of Israel on Earth. Indeed this was one reason why many Jews of the day rejected Jesus: they misunderstood the prophecy of the Messiah. They believed the Messiah would conquer the world in a show of might never before seen – Jesus the gentle lamb was not what they had in mind.
“The Lord will be king over the whole Earth; on that day the Lord will be the only one, and the Lord’s name will be the only one.” – Zechariah 14:9
An extension of this theory is that Judas was attempting to force the hand of Jesus; that he believed Jesus would have no choice but to defend Himself against the Romans by unleashing the wrath of God upon them. Unlikely, though it is, that one who knew Him so closely would ever think himself savvy enough to outwit Jesus, this proposal would be congruent with the deep dismay and regret that led Judas to hang himself.
Another far-fetched theory – heavily based upon the so-called Gospel of Judas, which is not canonical – is that Judas was actually a character-martyr; that he was chosen by Christ to effect the crucifixion and bring about the Father’s plan. This depiction paints Judas as a hero of Christianity and him – rather than Peter – as Jesus’ most trusted disciple.
The sympathetic tale of the Gospel of Judas is not likely to be accurate for several reasons. First, it is inconsistent with what we already know about Jesus. Jesus would not have scapegoated Judas into history as the ultimate betrayer. Nor would Jesus commanding Judas to perform a staged betrayal be respectful of free will. No, the Gospel of Judas – while interesting from a dramatic perspective – does not stand up to the truth test.
Still, others believe that Judas was simply evil – a picture painted in no small part by his characterization in the Gospel of John. It is clear that John had no love lost for Judas. Long before his betrayal of Our Lord with a kiss, John’s Gospel describes Judas as a “thief [who] held the money bag and used to steal the contributions.” [i]
The truth about Judas may be far more simple – and foreboding – than any of us would like to accept. John himself, though no fan of Judas, gives the symbol that Judas is more of a tragic figure than a monster.
“’But there are some of you who do not believe.’ Jesus knew from the beginning the ones who would not believe and the one who would betray him. – John 6:64
Following his betrayal of Jesus, we clearly see the striking character difference between Judas and the rest of the Apostles. Peter, though rebuked multiple times by Jesus for his errors, persevered with trust; Judas does not. Evan after himself denying that he knew Jesus three times, Peter has a heart that is open to Christ’s forgiveness;Judas does not. Thomas, who cannot initially bring himself to believe in the stories he hears of Christ’s resurrection, immediately repents and acknowledges the risen Lord, when he realizes his mistake.
The problem – and lesson – with Judas lie in his two great failures of faith:
- He allowed the seeds of discontent to grow in his heart. He lost faith in the message of Christ. He was, neither, patient nor trusting enough to take Jesus at His word and understand that God’s plan would bring to pass all that had been promised. Because of this, the ultimate opportunist, the Devil, was able to enter into his heart.[ii]
- After committing the ultimate betrayal for thirty pieces of silver, he refused to believe in the Divine Mercy of Jesus. Judas was desperately sorry and regretful for what he had done, but even in his darkest moment of hopelessness, he could not bring himself to trust that Jesus would forgive him. Instead of repenting and returning to his Lord, he chose to hang himself.[iii]
We can learn a most serious lesson from the tragedy of Judas. We must monitor our thoughts and feelings and we must monitor our despair. Judas downfall began with discontent about how Jesus was proceeding, and mistrust in His plan. This allowed the devil to infiltrate his heart. His downfall was complete once Judas failed to accept Christ’s mercy and forgiveness. Judas was one of Christ’s closest companions; he lived with, learned from and witnessed the miracles of Jesus. If he could fail, then how much greater is the challenge for those of us trying to keep the faith 2000 years after the fact.
God’s love for us knows no bounds, but neither does His respect for our free will. We have to accept His mercy and forgiveness. To automatically grant forgiveness on us would deny the dignity of our freedom to choose.
However, the battle is easier to win than we may think. We must reject the path of Judas who believed he knew better than the Lord and could not bring himself to accept forgiveness. We must always trust in Jesus. We must trust in His mercy. We must trust that He will always forgive us, provided we are truly penitent for our sins.
[i] John 12:6
[ii] Luke 11:24-26, John 13:2
[iii] Matthew 27:3-5