The Betrayal of Jesus

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Judas Iscariot Receiving Payment for his Betrayal - by GIOTTO di Bondone -
from Cappella Scrovegni (Arena Chapel), Padua


Mt 26:14-25
John 13:21-33,36-38
Luke 22:1-6

The time was near for the Festival of Unleavened Bread, which is called Passover. The chief priests and the teachers of the Law were afraid of the people, and so they were trying to find a way of putting Jesus to death secretly.

Then Satan entered into Judas, called Iscariot, who was one of the twelve disciples. So Judas went off and spoke with the chief priests and the officers of the Temple guard about how he could betray Jesus to them. They were pleased and offered to pay him money. Judas agreed to it and started looking for a good chance to hand Jesus over to them without the people knowing about it.


The Betrayal of Jesus

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crucifixion3.jpg (1600 bytes)The figure of Judas Iscariot is a haunting and baffling one. Was he chosen by God to betray His Son? And then commit suicide? How could God allow that? Jesus suffered death but rose again. Judas had to extinguish himself. Did saving the world really require that price? What is to be learned from 'Judas the traitor'?

The betrayal of Jesus by Judas Iscariot always seems odd because (a) everyone knew who Jesus was; if they wanted Him, He was there already, (b) in a small-town place like Jerusalem, Jesus' presence would have been a secret to nobody. Below are two of many different interpretations of what might have happened:


crucifixion3.jpg (1600 bytes)Possibly, one scholar suggests, Judas wanted to provoke a disturbance and speed up the pace. The Jews would grab Jesus, there would be a commotion, the Romans would intervene, a riot would begin prompted by Jesus' followers, and then Jesus would show His divine powers and eliminate the worthless and faithless of Jerusalem, Palestine and the whole world. Cleansing the Temple days earlier had shown Jesus had a temper. He could do it!

But Jesus was to disappoint. There was violence in the Garden as the high priest's servant had his ear cut off; but Jesus quelled that violence. To Judas this must have been a bitter disappointment. Was the Mighty One really going to let Himself be handed over and killed? And then, too late, in his misery and disillusionment, Judas realized why: Jesus was the Just One, too Just for Judas to bear. Some speculate that at this point Judas hanged himself in order to seek Jesus in the other world and ask His pardon.

The fact is that those who wanted to see fireworks in the saving of the world would wait in vain. Jesus was tried, sentenced, died, lay and rose in stillness. So it is with the Christian experience of Christ. Not in the crash of drums, but in a tiny awareness of presence. Like the spring flowers now peeping into our gardens, the Resurrection comes ever so discreetly into all our lives. We really have to trust it is there, and not despair.


crucifixion3.jpg (1600 bytes)Another point of view: How could Judas Iscariot, who had seen God's power and love in such abundance, turn out so wrong? Judas was chosen by Jesus to be a disciple. Judas had heard and shared in Jesus' teachings. Judas had witnessed miracles, including watching Lazarus being raised from the dead just days before. How could Judas, when witnessing an act of great personal faith, i.e. Mary Magdalene washing Jesus' feet with expensive perfume, how could Judas only think of personal financial gain?

It is possible that Judas' problem was that he had trouble comprehending the awesome spectacle he was a part of. Judas was with Jesus day-after-day hearing His teachings, watching Him perform miracles. These experiences overwhelmed him, he stopped seeing these events as marvelous and started seeing them as mundane. After all, miracles happened every day, they were nothing special, just part of the job.

Like Judas, you and I are chosen to be disciples of Christ. We hear and read of Christ's teachings, just like Judas did. We also see and experience God's love and power around us every day. Are we going to take it for granted like Judas or embrace it like Mary Magdalene?


crucifixion3.jpg (1600 bytes)Lastly, there is a very beautiful old legend titled "The Day of the Lord." It describes the joy and the glorious celebration taking place in Heaven on the Last Day that the Gospels talk about. Everyone is dancing, singing and shouting with great jubilation. Everyone except Jesus. Jesus is standing very quietly in the shadows of the pearly gates. Someone asks Him what He is doing. Why He is so quiet and pensive in the midst of such a glorious celebration. Jesus replies with His usual gentleness of the Good Shepherd He is, "I am waiting here for Judas." The story simply symbolizes the infinite quality of Jesus' gentleness, which is constantly practiced in His compassion, His mercy and His forgiving love which He offers even to Judas Iscariot.


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