WHY DID JUDAS DO IT?
Great reflection for Spy Wednesday
(Did you know this term used by some folks for today?)
The first time I recall being really challenged by the question of "Why would Judas do this" was after seeing the Passion play/musical "Tetelestai" as a teen wherein the creators placed Judas in a prominent role.
As much as I may want to be like John or Peter,
I have to ask:
How am I like Judas?
When do my greed...
Desire to be connected to powerful people...
Feelings of knowing-it-all...
Lack of trust...
betray my love of Jesus?
Looks like I have much on which to reflect today...
Thank you Fr. Jim for posting this on Facebook for many of us to contemplate. It brings a new/different aspect to this most Holy Week.
By Fr. James Martin, SJ
Why did Judas do it?
The Gospel readings for today and tomorrow ("Spy Wednesday") focus on Judas's betrayal of Jesus. But why did Judas do it?
. . . . . .
A few years ago I served as a “theological adviser” to an Off-Broadway play, called “The Last Days of Judas Iscariot,” that put Judas on trial for Jesus’s death. We spent many hours sifting through the possible reasons for history’s most famous betrayal.
The Gospel of Mark gives no motivation for Judas's sudden betrayal. Confusing things further, Matthew has Jesus telling Judas at the Last Supper, "Do what you are here to do," which seems to imply some acquiescence, or at least foreknowledge, on Jesus’s part. Matthew attempts to clarify things in his account by introducing the motive of greed: "What will you give me if I betray him to you?" Judas asks the Jewish high priests.
The Gospel of John echoes this theme: before the Last Supper, Judas is depicted by the evangelist as the greedy keeper of the common purse. When Jesus is anointed in Bethany, shortly before his crucifixion, Judas complains, asking why the money was not given to the poor. In an aside, John writes, "He [Judas] said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it."
Thus John paints Judas as greedy, and dishonest as well. Finally, Luke's gospel tells us that at the Last Supper "Satan had entered into Judas." Daniel J. Harrington, SJ, told me that this phrase from Luke explained "either everything or nothing."
There is another hypothesis that sometimes remains unstated by commentators: the evangelists concocted the entire story of Judas's betrayal for dramatic purposes. Some have posited that the one who betrayed Jesus could have come from outside the Twelve, and that Judas was simply a convenient fall guy. Similarly, Judas may have been invented as a generic "Jewish" character in order to lay the blame for the crucifixion on the Jewish people. The name “Judas” (the Hebrew would be Judah) lends credence to this idea. So might Paul, who suggests that Jesus was “handed over” not by Judas or anyone else but by God.
But a wholesale invention is unlikely. Mark wrote his gospel around 70 A.D., only a few decades after the death of Jesus. Luke and Matthew wrote some 10 to 15 years later. The Christian community of that time still would have counted among its members those who were friends of Jesus, who were eyewitnesses to the Passion, or who knew the sequence of events from conversations with the previous generation. They most likely would have criticized any wild liberties taken with the story. Rather, as Father Harrington told me, "Judas's betrayal of Jesus was a known and most embarrassing fact." The ignominy of having Jesus betrayed by one of his closest friends is something the Gospel writers would have wanted to avoid, not invent.
Overall, none of the Gospels provides a convincing reason for why one of the 12 disciples would betray the teacher he esteemed so highly. Greed fails as an explanation—why would someone who had traveled with the penniless rabbi for three years suddenly be consumed with greed? (Unless he was indeed stealing from the common purse.)
William Barclay conjectured that the most compelling explanation is that by handing Jesus over to the Romans, Judas was trying to force Jesus's hand, to get him to act in a decisive way. Perhaps Judas expected the arrest to prompt Jesus to reveal himself as the long-awaited Messiah by not only ushering in an era of peace, but overthrowing the Roman occupiers. Barclay noted that none of the other traditional explanations (greed, disillusionment, jealousy) explain why Judas would have been so shattered after the crucifixion that the Gospel of Matthew has him committing suicide; only if Judas had expected a measure of good to come from his actions would suicide make any sense. "This is in fact the view which best suits all the facts," Barclay concluded.
Finally, there is an explanation at once simple and complex: sin. Why do we do what we know is wrong? It is an inexplicable mystery. Perhaps Judas’s reasons for betrayal were obscure even to himself.
. . . . .
From "Jesus: A Pilgrimage":http://www.harpercollins.com/books/Jesus-James-Martin/?isbn=9780062024237
Image: "The Taking of Christ in the Garden," by Caravaggio.
Cindee Case, MPS
Director of the Diocese of Youngstown Office of Youth and Young Adult Ministry.