Easter Sunday, April 8, 2012 will be a day of great celebration for Christians everywhere! But there is a dark figure in the drama leading up to Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection — that of Judas Iscariot, the disciple who betrayed him.
None of the four gospel accounts answers the question: Did Jesus know, when he chose Judas as one of his twelve disciples, that he would betray him?
Whether or not Jesus knew, Judas achieved a significant and trusted role in the company of the twelve disciples; he was the treasurer, caring for the funds (John 12:6). If food was to be bought for the Twelve, he made the purchase. If alms were to be given to the poor, he dispensed them.
It may be that Judas felt reserve about Jesus from the beginning. Consider this small but telling detail: at the Last Supper when Jesus made it known that one among them would betray him, the other disciples asked in shock one at a time, “Surely not I, Lord.” Judas responded “Surely not I, Rabbi?” — a less exalted, more formal title than “Lord.” (Matt. 26: 20-25). Our words so easily give us away.
It was a few days before that last supper that Judas showed his true state of heart. At a feast in the home of Martha six days before Passover, Martha’s sister, Mary, came near to the banquet table where Jesus was eating. She opened a container of nard, a precious perfume, and poured it on Jesus’ feet. Then having nothing on hand to spread or wipe away the excess, she threw her hair over her head and wiped his feet. The whole house was filled with the fragrance. Those of us who truly love the Lord would have been deeply moved if we had witnessed this generous act of worship and devotion.
Not Judas. The Apostle John instead identifies Judas as the one who failed to see the beauty of the moment and complained self-righteously, “’Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor?’ It was worth a year’s wages.” (Jn 12: 5).
John was the last of the four gospel writers to write his account and he adds a detail the others do not: “(Judas) did not say this because he cared for the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it” (Jn 12:6). Behind the scenes Judas was a pilferer – one who took money that was not his from the bag, a little at a time.
It is clear that Judas’ sins were his own. There is no indication in Scripture that he was a pawn in the drama or that what he did was foreordained, though foreknown. He sought out the chief priests to offer his services to betray Jesus stealthily into their hands. He worked out the deal with them and then, he watched for his opportunity. He led the officials and their underlings into the Garden to arrest him. (Lk. 22:4-8).
The end for Judas is well known – his belated and apparently self-centered remorse, the effort to relieve his conscience by returning the money, his suicidal death. All this is sad beyond words.
But Judas’ story is in the account of our Lord’s passion to highlight the consequences of sin even for those most privileged and even seemingly favored, and it should prompt our sober reflections as we ask with the apostles, “Surely not I, Lord?”