Now the festival of Unleavened Bread, which is called the Passover, was near. The chief priests and the scribes were looking for a way to put Jesus to death, for they were afraid of the people. Then Satan entered into Judas called Iscariot, who was one of the twelve; he went away and conferred with the chief priests and officers of the temple police about how he might betray him to them. They were greatly pleased and agreed to give him money. So he consented and began to look for an opportunity to betray him to them when no crowd was present.
Then came the day of Unleavened Bread, on which the Passover lamb had to be sacrificed. So Jesus sent Peter and John, saying, ‘Go and prepare the Passover meal for us that we may eat it.’ They asked him, ‘Where do you want us to make preparations for it?’ ‘Listen,’ he said to them, ‘when you have entered the city, a man carrying a jar of water will meet you; follow him into the house he enters and say to the owner of the house, “The teacher asks you, ‘Where is the guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?’” He will show you a large room upstairs, already furnished. Make preparations for us there.’ So they went and found everything as he had told them; and they prepared the Passover meal.
Well beyond the pages of the Gospels and walls of the Church the name “Judas” is synonymous with treachery and betrayal. To be accused of “doing a Judas” is harsh judgement and of the core group of disciples accompanying Jesus his is the name to which no churches or good causes are dedicated. The Gospel writers describe his actions as Devil-inspired and to ensure that no sympathy is evoked for him we are told that he took money for his act of betrayal. In John 12:6 we are also encouraged to regard him as a thief, helping himself to the contents of the disciples’ common purse. In today’s reading he is seen conferring with those who want rid of Jesus and they are “greatly pleased”. Money is pledged in return for the betrayal of God’s priceless gift.
The scene in the Garden of Gethsemane – when Judas greets Jesus with a kiss not as a sign of affection but a clue for those coming to arrest him – is painful to behold. Ultimately, of course, the money is of no consolation at all when Judas realises the extent of his mistake and ends his life.
Before we condemn Judas’ actions we do well to ponder whether we are entirely blameless ourselves when it comes to the guilt of betrayal. Are any of us completely trustworthy and loyal – to our faith or to those who count upon us? Holy Week is a timely opportunity for soul-searching as we contemplate Judas’ betrayal within the context of the love of God abused, wounded, crucified yet abiding, and ask of ourselves: would I have acted any differently then? And, when faith becomes more demanding and costly than we might choose: do I remain steadfast or am I tempted to betray God, faith or principle in return for comfort?
Almighty God, whose love is richer than gold, forgive us for our cheap acts of betrayal. Have mercy on any and all who have been betrayed by those who once loved them. Grant peace to the betrayed and the betrayer. May our lips and lives attest that our wealth is invested in you. In the name of the One betrayed with a kiss, yet who on the Cross declared pardon and paradise to the thief. Amen.
The Rev’d Geoffrey Clarke, Minister, The Crossing (Methodist & United Reformed Church), Worksop and Wales Kiveton Methodist Church.