This is a story of a twisted heart. On his own initiative, and without the slightest hint of reluctance or reservation, Judas Iscariot sneaks off in search of a deal. He goes to the chief priests because he wants to see how much his planned betrayal of Jesus might be worth to those eager to get rid of him. Because this traitorous deed typically overshadows every other dimension of his life, it is easy to forget, as this gospel reminds us, that Judas was “One of the Twelve.” He was not a marginal character in Jesus’ life; rather, Judas, along with the eleven other apostles, was among his most intimate companions. Judas had a history with Jesus. For the three years of Jesus’ public ministry, Judas’s life was taken up with Jesus. He journeyed with Jesus, shared meals with Jesus, learned from Jesus, worked with Jesus and, as friends always do, must have had many conversations with Jesus. So how could this possibly happen? How could someone so deeply connected to Jesus be willing to exchange the most precious gift of his life for thirty pieces of silver? Was Judas so blinded by greed that money mattered more to him than a man who clearly loved him?
It is easy to feel superior to Judas, easy to comfort ourselves by thinking that we would never do anything so wicked and perverse. But is that really true? There’s a bit of Judas in most of us inasmuch as it is easy to let something other than Christ rule our hearts. Whatever abides in the center of our hearts is what we love most, what we prize and cherish more than anything else. If it is something other than God, it’s a dark and dangerous love because, as the story of Judas vividly illustrates, sometimes we are willing to do anything to protect and nurture that love.
Here’s the point: Judas is willing to give the life of Jesus away for money and Jesus is willing to give his life away for Judas—and for every other sinner to come who is willing to betray Jesus for whatever those thirty pieces of silver are for them. Perhaps that is why in these days of Holy Week that guilt and shame are never far apart from boundless gratitude.
Paul J. Wadell is Professor of Theology & Religious Studies at St. Norbert College in De Pere, Wisconsin, and a member of the extended Passionist family.