Then Judas Iscariot, who was one of the twelve, went to the chief priests in order to betray him to them. When they heard it, they were greatly pleased, and promised to give him money. So he began to look for an opportunity to betray him.
On the first day of Unleavened Bread, when the Passover lamb is sacrificed, his disciples said to him, ‘Where do you want us to go and make the preparations for you to eat the Passover?’ So he sent two of his disciples, saying to them, ‘Go into the city, and a man carrying a jar of water will meet you; follow him, and wherever he enters, say to the owner of the house, “The Teacher asks, Where is my guest room where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?” He will show you a large room upstairs, furnished and ready. Make preparations for us there.’ So the disciples set out and went to the city, and found everything as he had told them; and they prepared the Passover meal.
When it was evening, he came with the twelve. And when they had taken their places and were eating, Jesus said, ‘Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me, one who is eating with me.’ They began to be distressed and to say to him one after another, ‘Surely, not I?’ He said to them, ‘It is one of the twelve, one who is dipping bread into the bowl with me. For the Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that one by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that one not to have been born.’
“Judas!” This one word, his name, has become a synonym for betrayal. Betrayal cuts so deeply, because it tears apart the trust in a relationship. If you have ever been betrayed, you will be only too aware of the pain and other powerful emotions it triggers. Sitting as a magistrate, sometimes I hear cases where someone would prefer to receive a harsher punishment – even jail – rather than to betray another!
The motivation for Judas’ betrayal is open to interpretation. Mark, Matthew and John precede this account with the passage we read yesterday, when Jesus was anointed with very expensive perfume. Was this moment the ‘final straw’ in Judas’ mind? Was money Judas’ motivation? Matthew, Mark and Luke mention the financial reward Judas received; John tells us that Judas stole from the collective purse. In contrast, Luke and John ascribe the betrayal to the Devil.
There was most likely a combination of factors behind Judas’ actions. In seeking to understand them there is also a philosophical and theological issue concerning free-will: Judas’ betrayal led to Jesus’ arrest and subsequent crucifixion. In today’s reading, Judas’ betrayal overshadows the Passover preparations; however, there is a common theme of Jesus’ apparent foreknowledge of events.
The Gospels suggest that Judas is bound up with the fulfilment of God’s purposes. John Calvin commented: “surely in Judas’ betrayal, it will be no more right, because God himself willed that his son be delivered up and delivered him up to death, to ascribe the guilt of the crime to God than to transfer the credit for redemption to Judas.”
Judas’ actions have been the theme of artists, scholars and theologians for centuries. One more modern attempt to understand this is in the musical “Jesus Christ, Superstar!” by Lord Andrew Lloyd-Webber and Sir Tim Rice, where Judas is a principal player. Anyone who has seen this musical will have been haunted by the prolonged suicide scene which hints at remorse. Rice’s lyrics juxtapose the song “I don’t know how to love Him,” first sung by Mary Magdalene, in to Judas’ dying moments.
Betrayal can also be seen from a different angle: where the Church has in some real sense betrayed God; where people have felt excluded from God’s love because how they have been treated, or the way in which parts of the Church have spoken about them. In many ways, the URC has been at the forefront of reform – one example of which is the affirming welcome to LGBT people where same-sex marriage is offered in some URC congregations.
My church’s afternoon ‘Metropolitan Congregation’ has a specific ministry to the LGBT people of Manchester and the North West, and we meet so many who have been deeply wounded by churches who have rejected them and thus betrayed God’s loving message. Join with us in restoring the Good News of the all-welcoming nature of God’s love.
Loving God, Your message to us is one of boundless love. We pray for all those who have been deeply hurt: Those who have been rejected by churches for who they are; Those who have been rejected by family and friends for who they are. We pray for their healing and new opportunities to trust. Pour Your love afresh into our hearts, So that we might be Christ to all whom we meet. Amen.
Walt Johnson is an Elder at Wilbraham St Ninian’s URC in Chorlton, South Manchester.