In the days of Holy Week leading up to the Paschal Triduum, that is, during the final few days of Lent, Judas Iscariot is a central figure in the Church’s Gospel readings. This evening, we heard Matthew’s account of the same episode we heard about last evening from John’s Gospel.
According to Matthew, Judas had made a deal with chief priests prior to the Last Supper to betray Jesus for thirty pieces of silver. Based on this, the Wednesday of Holy Week is sometimes called “Spy Wednesday.” Judas is dubbed a “spy” because by his betrayal he became something of an inside informer for the authorities- the powers that opposed Jesus.
His betrayal, which, according to Matthew, was already a done deal, makes Judas’s reply to Jesus’s prediction that one of those at the Last Supper would betray home quite disingenuous. It was no mystery to Judas who would betray Jesus. It doesn’t appear that it was a mystery to Jesus either. But the rest of Twelve did not know who was going to betray their Master.
It’s tempting to ask the question, Have you ever been betrayed? And then to follow this up with the question, How did being betrayed make you feel? The answers would be hurt, angry, bitter, resentful, etc. What is important is what is signified by Jesus dipping a morsel and handing it to Judas: Jesus kept on loving Judas despite knowing about and then experiencing his betrayal.
The better question for today, I think, is Have you ever betrayed anyone? How did did you feel afterwards, when you realized what you had done? Ashamed? Remorseful? Embarrassed? Weak? If we follow the thread concerning Judas in Matthew’s Gospel to the end, we learn that Judas “deeply regretted what he had done.”1 As a result, threw the thirty pieces of silver into the temple and then hanged himself.2
IN Monday's Gospel reading, calling to mind Judas’s rebuke of Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus, for anointing Jesus’s feet with costly oil, it seems clear that either Judas didn’t believe or simply did not grasp who Jesus was. And this despite his experiences as one of the Lord’s closest followers. Given the complexity of human motivations perhaps he didn’t believe Jesus is the resurrection and life because he didn’t grasp the Lord’s teaching and was unable to make sense of his experiences in the light of that teaching.
In Matthew’s account, Judas clearly knows that Jesus is innocent of that which he stands accused. Hence, he is horrified when he witnesses how brutally Jesus is treated. In other words, whatever else Judas might’ve thought or believed, he knew he was responsible for the death of an innocent person.
Because we grasp who Jesus is and believe him to be Lord, we can be pretty sure that Jesus, who was never angry with, bitter toward, or resentful of Judas or any of those who treated him cruelly and killed him, would gladly have extended him mercy and forgiven him. These words from 1 Peter amplify and clarify the message of our first reading, taken from the second of deutero-Isaiah’s four Servant Songs: Jesus
committed no sin, no deceit was found in his mouth.In suffering like this, the sacred writer insists, Christ “left you an example to have you follow in his footsteps.”4
When he was insulted,
He returned no insult.
When he was made to suffer,
he did not counter with threats.
Instead he delivered himself up
to the One who judges justly.
In his own body he brought your sins to the cross3
Can there be any doubt that Jesus would have forgiven Judas despite his repentance coming too late to save him from an agonizing death? After all, he lavishly forgave Peter for his betrayal. But it is not Jesus who needs Judas’s salvation but Judas who needs Jesus’s salvation.
Like Judas, we need Jesus to save us, most especially from ourselves, given our propensity to inflict what we mistakenly believe to be divine punishment upon ourselves, as did Judas. The name of God is Mercy because the name of his Son is Jesus.