Were you there when Judas betrayed Jesus? Lent is a full season of preparation for Easter. After the demonstrators of Palm Sunday, we find Judas betraying Jesus in Luke 22.3-6. What is Judas’ role in this story?
In Luke 22, we find the Passion and Resurrection narratives. Each episode is a gospel in miniature. As we begin this section of Luke, the chief priests and scribes make the decision to arrest Jesus. They knew what they wanted to do and what they thought would solve their problem.
Their decision leads to Spy Wednesday. This is the day during Holy Week when we pause to reflect on Judas and how his actions can feed Christian faith.
The story begins, “Then Satan entered into Judas…”
People have various views on Satan. Some view a cosmic battle between divine forces. Since God has no equal, Satan cannot be the kind of cartoon character, evil persona movies and art depicts. In Dante’s Inferno, Satan is a kind-of giant demon. But, that is Dante, not the Bible.
The Bible lacks Dante’s clarity. The best definition of evil incarnate is James 1.14, “One is tempted by one’s own desire, being lured and enticed by it.” Evil comes from within us.
So, why is Luke explicit that “Satan entered Judas”?
The answer is relates to the Judas they all knew and loved. They must have wondered how could he do this. He was one of them. They trusted him. In fact, they trusted him so much, they made him the treasurer. Of course, the Bible cleans up that trust and ascribes him with the love of money and deceptive heart.
In John 12, we find a clear picture of the way people remembered Judas. John, more than the other three gospels, cleaned up some of the story. John added clarifying comments along the way. In John 12, Mary anoints Jesus and Judas complains about the wasted perfume. His stated objection was that the money could have helped the poor. This would have fit with Jesus’ teachings and makes sense as an objection.
The Johannine community that delivered the fourth gospel does not want to leave Judas with a potential strong argument on his lips. There is a parenthetical point of clarification in John 12.6. “He said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief. He kept the common purse and used to steal from it.”
We do not know whether this accusation in John is true. Was it an objective face? We cannot know. What we do know is that Judas is a common villain throughout history.
We tend to amend the way we remember things—good, bad, or otherwise. In our minds’ eye, they grow or shrink. A windy day on the water becomes the storm of the century. Once, when we lived on our boat in Puerto Rico, my parents were visiting. Dean was baby and Melanie was expecting Eddy. We sailed to Vieques and after a few glorious days were sailing back to Puerto Rico. It was windy and the wind was on our nose, so we were tacking back and forth into the wind. To this day, my mother remembers that “storm” in larger than life terms. The waves were like mountains crashing down—they were not.
Memories can take on characteristics that have little bearing on reality.
Who was Judas? Only the Gospels and Acts mention him. Iscariot means “one from Kerioth.” Kerioth was a village in southern Judea. John refers to Judas as Simon’s son.
All sources agree that he betrayed Jesus. But, we do not know his exact motivation. Matthew, Mark, and Luke say that the Jewish authorities offered him money. Matthew shows Judas repent, return the money, and commit suicide. Matthew has the authorities buy a field to bury Judas. Whereas Acts 1.18-20 offers a different, much more graphic version of events. In Acts, Judas fell in the field he acquired and his guts burst open.
I do not wish to sanctify Judas. I want us to be honest with ourselves.
Our Need for Judas
We need Judas because this complicated biblical figure tells a story. We do not need betrayal. “Accounts of Judas are varied, inconsistent, and influenced by theological opinions of writers, the belief in the fulfillment of scripture, and the idea that God brings death to ungodly persons.”[i] The varying details and mists of time make an accurate assessment of Judas impossible. He is part of the story. He is part of Holy Week. On Spy Wednesday, we think about what he means.
Were we there when he betrayed Jesus? The answer is ‘yes’ if we have ever tried to move God along. We say or hear, “In God’s time,” but, then, like Judas, we push things along.
That is what he was doing. He was trying to force Jesus’ hand. He believed that Jesus was the Messiah. He was ready for Jesus to start delivering on some messianic promises as he understood them.
We can learn from Judas. We can step into his sandals and picture the times in our lives when we try to nudge God along. Does it ever go well when our timing and God’s timing do not coincide? Not usually.
Holy Week will unfold. We will go through the final steps with Jesus. On Maundy Thursday, we will gather around tables, like Jesus did with the disciples. Then, we will worship, remembering his last supper. On Good Friday, we will be back here at noon and reflect on Jesus’ suffering. Even though we know Easter is coming, let us not get ahead of ourselves.
Judas is part of our journey to Easter. When we allow him, he can teach us about ourselves.
Easter is coming. But, not, quite, yet.