In today’s Mass we read of the account of Judas in John’s Gospel. Judas is ever an upsetting character. He is not like Peter or the Good Thief who did some rather nasty things but managed to repent of them. We are told that Judas later hanged himself after returning the thirty pieces of silver he had received from the Chief Priests.
These acts are indications both of despair and of regret. I have seen accounts suggesting that, even in hanging, Judas “could have” repented. “Who are we to judge?” But no doubt Judas is a pretty sober case to think about.
We wonder where each of us might have appeared in the Passion. We all have potential for terrible things to come out of our wills and souls. We deceive nobody but ourselves if we think otherwise. In the list of the Apostles, Judas is usually designated as the one who would “betray” Christ. And no doubt he did just that. Jesus tells him to do what he has to do “quickly.”
We can but speculate on why Judas might betray Christ. He was chosen to be an Apostle, to follow Christ. He clearly was clever. He had great potential as did the other Apostles, even though they were fishermen and ordinary workers.
Apostles have to accept and carry out their callings. I have never fully bought the idea that Judas acted because he was a thief or simply greedy, though he seems to have shown such tendencies. Not a few stories and novels in which Judas appears make him a disgruntled intellectual. He did carry the money.
In Bethany, he objected to pouring the costly ointment on Christ’s feet. It could have been “sold and given to the poor.” That remark itself smacks of an intellectual.
It was at this point that Christ said that “the poor you have always with you.” (Matthew 26:11) More important things exist, but only if we have some sense of the transcendent order.
Yet we know that the Christ was to be rejected by His people. Judas was a cog in this working out of Christ’s death. Many people were involved. Still, he who handed Christ over to Pilate had the greater sin. (John 19:11)
The Remourse of Judas by Edward Armitage, 1866
In the divine plan, all the figures involved in Christ’s arrest, imprisonment, trial, and death were free agents. None of them “had” to do what he did. Whether any of them grasped that, before them, stood the Messiah or the Son of God in any technical sense is doubtful. But each one did know that he was dealing with a man who was innocent.
Pilate even said so. Each knew that he had to lie, deceive, or fabricate to achieve what he wanted; namely, to have this man and His claim out of the way. One of the leaders, Gamaliel, later said that, if this work were of God, the opposition really could do nothing about it. (Acts 5:39) He was right. They became agents who brought these events to completion.
When Judas left the room, Jesus continued His discourse. While Judas was still present, he heard these words: “My purpose here is the fulfillment of Scripture. He who partakes of bread with me has raised his hand against me. I tell you this now before it takes place so that when it takes place you will believe that I am.”
Christ begins again: “Now is the Son of Man glorified and God is glorified in Him.” It is almost as if Judas’s departure was necessary for the other Apostles to hear these things. Christ knew that the machinery of His death was in motion. It was His to face. His friends would flee or draw back. What took place was not confined to this Upper Room.
The first reading for this Mass is from Isaiah 49: “I will make you a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach the ends of the earth.” One recalls again Christ’s words: “My purpose here is the fulfillment of Scriptures.” The writers of the New Testament wrote that this Scripture was in fact fulfilled in Christ’s death and resurrection.
We are often puzzled about whether this “salvation” has “reached the ends of the earth.” We know that knowledge of the event has reached all nations, though often restricted, rejected, or hampered. Perhaps “reaching” does not mean “accepting”?
Judas makes us think of the human obstacles thrown up before Christ’s efforts. They become the occasion by which God’s plan is carried out. It is rather eerie, certainly unsettling. Gamaliel’s words seem exact: Don’t deal with these Apostles. “If it (their teaching) comes from God, you will not be able to destroy them without fighting God himself.” (Acts 5:39)
One wonders, on this Tuesday of Holy Week, whether this is not exactly what is going on today – this “fighting God.”