“Blessed are you with your silver and lies, kissing the one who’s saving your life.” Thirty pieces of silver, a kiss and the deed is done. Judas as blessed — how could that be? Jesus calls him “friend”. Was that the moment Judas wished he could stop what was about to happen? What if Judas had not taken his own life? Questions to consider as we hear the story as Matthew tells it.
14Then one of the twelve, who was called Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests 15and said, “What will you give me if I betray him to you?” They paid him thirty pieces of silver. 16And from that moment he began to look for an opportunity to betray him.
17On the first day of Unleavened Bread the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Where do you want us to make the preparations for you to eat the Passover?” 18He said, “Go into the city to a certain man, and say to him, ‘The Teacher says, my time is near; I will keep the Passover at your house with my disciples.’” 19So the disciples did as Jesus had directed them, and they prepared the Passover meal. 20When it was evening, he took his place with the twelve; 21and while they were eating, he said, “Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me.” 22And they became greatly distressed and began to say to him one after another, “Surely not I, Lord?” 23He answered, “The one who has dipped his hand into the bowl with me will betray me. 24The Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that one by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that one not to have been born.” 25Judas, who betrayed him, said, “Surely not I, Rabbi?” He replied, “You have said so.”
47While he was still speaking, Judas, one of the twelve, arrived; with him was a large crowd with swords and clubs, from the chief priests and the elders of the people. 48Now the betrayer had given them a sign, saying, “The one I will kiss is the man; arrest him.” 49At once he came up to Jesus and said, “Greetings, Rabbi!” and kissed him. 50Jesus said to him, “Friend, do what you are here to do.” Then they came and laid hands on Jesus and arrested him.
Judas — a name that became synonymous with betrayal. Judas, who took his own life rather than face the other disciples after Jesus’ death. Judas, who expected a Messiah who would overthrow the Romans. Judas, who expected a Savior, but not like Jesus.
Would Judas have been angry when Jesus came riding into Jerusalem on a donkey? Jesus riding along on this beast of burden, his toes dragging in the dust. What kind of king is that? Judas wanted a conquering king — a leader like Pilate who rode in on the white stallion, not a donkey. Hadn’t they suffered enough at the hands of these Romans? Save us, Jesus — but not like this.
We don’t know that much about Judas. Some believe he was a radical zealot who tried to force Jesus to be the conquering King. Some believe that Jesus appointed Judas to hand him over. Judas is only mentioned in a dozen places or so in the four Gospels and the book of Acts. Even those stories don’t agree—in one he is promised money for his actions and in another given the 30 pieces of silver when he makes the deal. What is consistent is the image we have of Judas in modern times—the betrayer. The story says that guilt causes Judas to end his own life. What if he had lived?
There is another of the disciples who also betrayed Jesus—Peter. Peter betrayed Jesus by denying he ever knew him. Yet Peter becomes the leader of those who would follow the way of Jesus. Peter becomes the holder of the keys to the kingdom. Why? Jesus. Jesus forgives Peter and offers him a second chance—maybe even more chances than we know.
What would have happened if Judas had waited 3 days? What if Judas had been hiding in the shadows when the resurrected Jesus appeared to the disciples on the road to Emmaus? Would Jesus forgive even Judas?
Forgiveness is one of the most difficult things for human beings. It is more difficult to imagine than just about anything. Can a Jew forgive a Nazi? Can a parent forgive someone who murders their child? Can a slave forgive a slave owner? Can a woman forgive her attacker? Can a victim of a well-placed bomb on the street of the Boston Marathon forgive the bomber? Should they have to? Maybe we aren’t the ones who have to forgive. But can we stop God from forgiving?
We enter the week called “Holy” where Jesus will be betrayed, accused of treason, beaten with an instrument of torture, mocked, spit on and eventually crucified, the most horrible death imaginable—as horrible as even CSI and Criminal Minds can create. Why do we call this week holy? Why is the cross, an instrument of death, the centerpiece of our faith?
For some it is because Jesus became the substitution for the sins of all humankind. He was the sacrificial lamb. He died for our sins. For others it is because he was willing to stand against the powerful to stand with the powerless. He stayed the course and he was executed. For yet others it is because Jesus was fully human, experiencing the whole of human life. He became the broken God who came to be one of us, who suffered and died and cried out on the cross, “My God why have you forsaken me?” The cross, a method of execution on Good Friday, becomes the symbol of life on Easter. Holy Week—an act of love however we interpret it. Amazing love—if we accept the way of Jesus, it will demand our souls, our lives, our all.
What if Judas had lived? What do you think Jesus would have done?