Even the first time he appears, Judas’ name is associated with the betrayal which makes him infamous and immortal in history. We have two accounts of how he met his end: St Matthew tells us he hanged himself in a fit of shame and remorse; in Acts, Luke tells us ‘Now this man purchased a field with the wages of iniquity; and falling headlong, he burst open in the middle and all his entrails gushed out.’ He has become the epitome of the false friend. Why did he do it?
The Synoptic Gospels agree that Judas was bribed. Greed then, 30 pieces of silver; was it for this that the Saviour of the World was handed over to the torturers? John goes further, telling us that Judas ‘was a thief, and had the money box; and he used to take what was put in it.’ He objected to Mary using expensive, scented oil to anoint the feet of the Lord, giving us one of the few other insights we have into his behaviour.
One of the most powerful moments in John’s Gospel comes in the sixth chapter when many of His followers turn away, being unable to accept the literal fact that Jesus is telling them that they will eat His flesh and drink His blood. We concentrate much on Peter’s weakness sometimes, but here he stands firm and when Christ asks if he is not going to follow suit he says “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. Also we have come to believe and know that You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus answers gnomically: “Did I not choose you, the twelve, and one of you is a devil?”
That brings us up against the paradox at the heart of Judas. He was the Son of God, and He chose the twelve and He knew one was going to betray Him. Christ knew human weakness well. Judas had free will. He had made his choice. Like so many of us, he would find it impossible to live with it.
It is a sign of our times that so many seem fascinated by Judas. Goodness is a quality we seem to find hard to handle, the corruptions and ambiguities of treason fascinate us. If moral relativism had a patron saint, it would be Judas. He judged by the standards which came naturally to him. It was wrong to waste money which could and should be used on the poor; Jesus was not going to bring the social and political change that were needed; Judas reasoned according to the ways of this world and he handed over the Lord of Creation to His enemies.
Judas and Caiaphas were men of this world, as I have tried to illustrate on Neo’s blog, and they followed its reasoning. For the one, Jesus was a danger because he threatened the existing order, for the other, a disappointment because He didn’t. Faced with the Truth, like Pilate they didn’t know what it was, let alone that it was a person – the person whom they condemned.
That night at Gethsemane, nearly everybody fell below the level of events. Peter would also betray Jesus, something Christ had foreseen as clearly as He had the betrayal of Judas. Peter, however, would feel his shame and it would drive him to work tirelessly for the Risen Lord and to ‘feed mu sheep’. Judas, however, reasoned as men do and hung himself. To the end, he preferred his own judgment to obedience to the command to repent and preach the Gospel.