What will you give me to betray him? That is the question that Judas Iscariot poses to the chief priests in Matthew’s gospel. Down through the centuries there have been many suggestions as to why Judas decided to do this. The typical explanation is that he was greedy and saw an opportunity to make a few bucks off of Jesus. Even the gospels seem to suggest this, with John noting that Judas kept the money bag (Jn. 13:26-30). The unanswered question has always been – but why would someone so close to Jesus do such a thing? And, why would he return the money and kill himself after seeing that Jesus had been crucified.
Answers to these questions have been many. John suggests that Satan entered him. Others have suggested that Jesus had asked Judas to do this, so that his own plan might be fulfilled. Still others have suggested that Judas was part of the anti-Roman conspiracy and hoped that by seeing Jesus arrested the people would rise up against the Romans to save him.
I don’t know the answer to these questions, because I don’t know enough about Judas. He simply appears in the story and then disappears with his death. It’s possible that every group has its bad apples, and Judas is just Jesus’ bad apple. But I think there’s more to the story, especially as it relates to us as we make our way toward Good Friday and then Easter.
Judas isn’t the only one to betray Jesus. Yes, he’s the only one who takes an active role in getting Jesus arrested, but it appears that the Disciples fled when Jesus was arrested. Peter denies knowing him, and neither Peter, James, nor John, can stay awake with Jesus as he prays in the Garden.
Betrayal, that is a strong word, but do we not betray Jesus in our own lives? Do we not deny him in the way we live in the world? We sing the old song, “They’ll know we are Christians by our love,” and yet too often there is little love to be seen in the Christian community.
If all we do with this text is throw Judas under the bus then his story likely won’t make much of an impression on our lives. Perhaps it is good to ask the question: In what way does my life reflect Judas’s?
Previously published in the CWCC 2011 Lenten Devotional, edited by John McCauslin.