Then one of the twelve, who was called Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and said, ‘What will you give me if I betray him to you?’ They paid him thirty pieces of silver. And from that moment he began to look for an opportunity to betray him.
What would it take for you to betray someone?
This account of Judas Iscariot’s actions is rather shocking. The Gospel writer of Matthew has told the reader of there being a plot against Jesus, but to hear that ultimately it will be one of the disciples who would give Jesus up is difficult to comprehend. How could one who would be so villainous be one of those Jesus closely associated with? How could one who sat at Jesus’ feet, dedicated to following Jesus’s teachings, be so disloyal?
From this episode and other short snippets about Judas Iscariot within the four Gospels, we come to see Judas as a self-interested character who does not get what Jesus was all about. The fame and fortune he possibly thought would be his from being associated with the Messiah never seemed to materialise, so he looked elsewhere for reward. Yet, given the little we actually know about Judas, can we claim this as his only motivation for betraying Jesus as he did?
When one considers what the prophets said about the Messiah and then how Jesus fulfilled that prophesy, there is discord. That expectation of a mighty warrior king charging in to save their people was not exactly lived out by a person ambling into town on a donkey and who was caught up in a war of words with the religious leaders of the people rather than the occupying forces. There must have been those who felt deceived by Jesus’s promises not living up to what they had hoped.
Sometimes when one feels betrayed, it seems logical to betray that person in return. You may do this for the right reason, so that that person does not do the same to someone else. Yet, you also might do it for the wrong reason because that person did not act or fulfil a promise as you expected. One has to wonder whether this is part of Judas’ narrative too.
Merciful God, forgive us when we betray you because your ways are not our ways or your words, our words. Forgive us when we turn from you because your reality is not our dream or your certainty our hope. Through the grace of your Holy Spirit open our hearts and minds so that your will become ours and we follow without condition where you lead in Jesus Christ, Amen.
The Rev’d Dr Elaine Colechin, Minister, St Mark’s United Church, Greenwich and Bromley United Reformed Church