This post is part of a reflective Lenten series, originally published as Facebook posts on my personal account.
Lenten practice, day #37.
Reference: Matthew 26:14-25
Since I’m done with Hosea but there isn’t enough time to start any of the other books I want to go into, I’m going to take a request from my good friend Fr. Steven and just reflect on the gospel reading for the day.
Today’s is the part of the betrayal where we see Judas going to the high priests, and then totally pretending he can fool Jesus at the Last Supper.
In this story, it’s really, really easy to be ticked off at Judas—and understandably so. After all, the man did just effectively execute the Son of God. That being said, however, it’s at least interesting to explore the potential reasoning on Judas’s end.
According to John 12:6, Judas was the guy in charge of the disciple’s money bag. (You could stop here and unpack the idea that they had a communal moneybag at all, but that’s a post for a different day.) As such, it’s certainly conceivable that Judas saw a money-making opportunity in the offer of the Sanhedrin. I’m not saying it was a well-advised decision at all, but if Judas somehow felt pressed for money (we don’t know the financial situation at the time), it’s possible that he figured he could get the money, but protect Jesus.
Of course, that’s speculation. We know that Judas felt deep regret after Jesus was condemned to death—so deep that he hung himself—but exactly where that regret came from is ambiguous (i.e. feeling bad for what he just did to Jesus as well as his 11 other friends, failure to protect Jesus, failure to help Him escape post-payment but pre-punishment, realization that the reception of blood money is unacceptable according to Jewish law, etc.). I bring this up simply because it’s interesting. We know that Judas was a human being, and as such he is fundamentally “very good,” so we know that somewhere in him was the will to do good—even if his conception of what constitutes “good” is very far off from reality. I wonder what good he saw in these actions?
Anyway, that said, now let’s look into the content of these verses.
The first few verses tell of Judas’s interaction with the Sanhedrin. It seems to indicate that he willingly came to them. No doubt that the very, very angry high priests had been attempting to rid of Jesus for some time (we know from John 10:22-39 that they had already tried once to stone him), so it probably wasn’t a secret that they were willing to accept help in that task. Being the “treasurer,” if you will, it’s likely that Judas was curious how much money would be offered for such a service. What’s interesting, however, is that they paid him right then and there—no “Jesus first, money second” stipulation. Judas could very easily have been like, “Sure! I’ll help you catch him!” then continually put off handing Jesus over, coming up with excuses. That’s not exactly ethical either, but it certainly is an alternative to the path that Judas ultimately took.
The bit where Jesus tells his disciples to go prepare a place for him has a myriad of implications and foreshadowing and symbolism, so I’m not going to go into it here—that’s certainly its own post. However, what is worth noting here is that Jesus was well aware of what had happened. Given that he’s God, it’s easy to brush that off as part of just being omniscient. But it’s important to remember that Jesus was just as fully human as he was fully God, which means he had totally human experiences. It’s totally plausible that he just got a gut feeling that it was about to go down and put two and two together given Judas’s absences and weird behavior (you can’t betray your best friend and not be weird around them). Or, on the other hand, he was also Prophet, so maybe he just receives news of Judas’s actions from God in a dream or locution or something. It could be pretty much anything.
Finally, put yourself in the places of the disciples at the Last Supper. You have no idea this is the last meal you’ll share with Jesus so, as it says in the gospel, you were just chillin’ at dinner, reclining at table, when the leader of your group of friends speaks up. Instead of saying something sentimental or particularly insightful (as he is wont to do), he’s just like, “One of you will betray me.” Like, really Jesus? Serious buzzkill.
From Jesus’ perspective, this had to have been something he was dying to say (haha, inappropriate Holy Week pun). Like, really. He knows he’s about to be tortured and executed, and everyone around him is just chillin’ having a good time. You can’t blame him.
Also interesting is the way the disciples react. Nobody’s like, “Ah man, Jesus, don’t be ridiculous.” Or “We’ve got you.” They react in a way that can only come from being around someone who has consistently predicted the future for the past few years: “Holy crap—is it me?!”
No questions about the validity of his statement, no doubting his emotional or rational state. They believe him instantly and assume it’s them.
You’d think that even if they felt nervous about it, they would at least be like, “Wait, have I done anything to betray him? Nope, I don’t think so. I’m good.” (At least, we tend to think this way today.) That’s not what happened, though.
Even more fascinating is the way that Judas tries to fit in by asking the same question as well (being awkwardly silent would make him stand out HARDCORE), and the way Jesus responds.
Maybe it’s just me, but he sounds SUPER snarky when he responds to Judas, “You have said so.” Can’t blame him—Jesus is super stressed out and anxious about the coming events, and Judas is being an idiot. (Note: Iscariot and Idiot share many letters. Coincidence?)
But it seems that the phrase “you have said so,” which becomes very normal for Jesus in his trials for the next few days, has some deeper significance.
What is it?