Sunday of the Passion
Why did he do it? Why did Judas betray Jesus? The truth of the matter is that we really don’t know what Judas’ motivation was. Matthew’s Gospel calls him “Judas Iscariot,” but unfortunately that doesn’t help us very much. We are not sure exactly what “Iscariot” means. There are a number of suggestions, and one of them includes ties to revolutionary ideas, but that is no more than one possibility among several others.
In our Gospel lesson, Judas’ first move to betray Jesus takes place after complaints about the expensive ointment that a woman had used to anoint Jesus. We are told that when the disciples saw it they were indignant and said, “Why this waste?
For this could have been sold for a large sum and given to the poor.” However, Jesus responded, “Why do you trouble the woman? For she has done a beautiful thing to me. For you always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me. In pouring this ointment on my body, she has done it to prepare me for burial.” If we look further afield, the Gospel of John specifically identifies Judas in this incident and then adds, “He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it.”
This may indicate that greed was a factor. But the problem with that explanation is that thirty pieces of silver just isn’t all that much money. Surely he could have gotten more. We learn at the beginning of our text that the Jewish religious leaders intended to arrest Jesus by stealth and kill him. However they had said, “Not during the feast, lest there be an uproar among the people.” Yet they wanted Jesus dead so much that they were willing to scrap this plan when the opportunity presented itself in Judas during Holy Week. Surely, Judas could have negotiated a better payoff.
If it wasn’t only about money, then what else could have prompted Judas to do it? Perhaps Judas just got tired of waiting for Jesus to do something. If he had nationalistic and revolutionary hopes, then Jesus was proving to be quite a disappointment. Or maybe he thought that betraying Jesus would force Jesus’ hand and make him do something. These are all plausible, but we can’t say for sure.
Certainly, the demonic was involved. Luke says that “Satan entered into Judas” at this moment when he made the decision to betray Jesus, and John tells us that at the Last Supper, the “devil had already put it into the heart of Judas” to betray him. Yet this really tells us nothing more than the fact that Satan tempted Judas to do it. That’s what Satan always does to people, and it doesn’t change the fact that Judas was responsible for what he did.
If you want to know for sure why Judas did it, then there is only one answer: It was because it was God’s will to save you. Our Gospel lesson begins with the words, “When Jesus had finished all these sayings, he said to his disciples, ‘You know that after two days the Passover is coming, and the Son of Man will be delivered up to be crucified.’”
This is actually the fourth passion prediction in Matthew’s Gospel. Just before entering Jerusalem on Palm Sunday Jesus said, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem. And the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified, and he will be raised on the third day.” And then Jesus went on to add, “the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
It was God the Father’s will for his Son, Jesus Christ, to die on the cross as the ransom for your sins. Through the Scriptures of the Old Testament he had declared ahead of time that this is what would happen. Jesus says in our text, “The Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that man if he had not been born.”
The events of Jesus’ passion and death had been written in Scripture. And that includes Judas’ betrayal. We learn that when Judas tried to return the money, the Jewish leaders refused to accept it, and instead used the money to buy a burial plot for strangers. Matthew tells us: “Then was fulfilled what had been spoken by the prophet Jeremiah, saying, ‘And they took the thirty pieces of silver, the price of him on whom a price had been set by some of the sons of Israel, and they gave them for the potter's field, as the Lord directed me.’”
Now we may say, “Well if God foreknows all things, and if he wills these events to happen, then surely Judas can’t be responsible for what he did.” And yet, Judas is. God foreknew it. God willed it to happen for you. Judas gave into temptation. Judas chose to do it, and bears responsibility for it. They are all true.
We may say, “But how can all of those be true at the same time?” And in that question we are confronted with the fact that God is God, and we are not. The first sin, the Fall, was about wanting to be God. In the Fall we lost the image of God. Now, having become less, we are even more convinced that God’s dealing must fit within our reason. We want to be God, and there is always the temptation to reject God when God refuses to play by our rules.
You see, we are not really talking about Judas. We are talking about you. We are talking about the things that happen in your life that you don’t want. You know what you want. You know what makes sense. You know the plans you have made. And then someone is diagnosed with cancer. Or struggles with mental illness arise. Or we face a financial crisis. Or our children reject faith in Jesus Christ.
When things like this occur, they do not make sense to us. Our reason struggles to figure out what God is doing. Or it wants to rebel against God. But God is God, and we are not. He doesn’t have to play by our rules, because frankly, our rules are just too small. We never get to “peer behind the curtain” and figure out what God is really up to. That’s just not how it works.
What we do get is this week, and the eighth day. We get the events of Holy Week. We get Jesus praying in the Garden of Gethsemane, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” We learn that it was the Father’s will for the incarnate Son to drink the cup of God’s wrath that we deserved. We get Jesus, betrayed into death by one of his chosen followers – by one of his own apostles. We get Jesus whipped, mocked, spit upon and crucified. We get Jesus bearing our sins and crying out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
We learn that this was God’s will for you. None of it is what we would expect. None of it is what we would have planned. None of it looks good. And yet all of it is God acting to save you.
We know this because on the eighth day, God raised Jesus from the dead. One week is not enough. If you decide that you can only bear with these things for seven days, then you are just going to miss out. You have to push on to the eighth day, for in the resurrection of Jesus Christ we see the vindication of all that God was doing. In the eighth day we find the assurance of forgiveness and the hope of resurrection and eternal life.
That is how the life of faith works. We must always push on to the eighth day. Our reason will always learn that God is God, and we are not. We will not be able to understand what God is doing. In truth, we may not like it at all. But we have seen what happened this week. We have seen what it looked like. And then, on the eighth day we learn that God was doing mighty things in the midst of it. He was giving us life, and peace, and hope.
The eighth day, the morning of the first day of the new week changes everything. So this week, we look forward to the eighth day. And in our lives, we always look to the eighth day, for in it the events of Holy Week make perfect sense. We see what God has done and what it means for us. And because we know this, we can trust and believe in him in the midst of all the other days of our life, no matter what happens.