By M. Scott Hughes
Director of Adult Discipleship, Discipleship Ministries
Can I confess that I am drawn to Judas Iscariot? Does that seem a bit irrational? Hear me out. Experience has taught me that most Christians (and non-Christians too) too quickly dismiss Judas with the label – betrayer! And give him no further thought, as if that’s all there is to know about Judas.
Being labeled as a betrayer is one of the most malicious labels there is. Johnathan Haidt, in his book The Righteous Mind, observes, “in The Inferno, Dante reserves the innermost circle of hell – and the most excruciating suffering – for the crime of treachery. Far worse than lust, gluttony, violence, or even heresy is the betrayal of one’s family, team, or nation.” (164) In the case of Judas Iscariot, he betrayed his team (the disciples) and worse, the Messiah!
From the opening verses of the chapter (Mark 14:1-2), we learn that the religious leaders were looking for a way to arrest Jesus with the least amount of commotion. Judas knew when and where that would be and would be able to positively identify him.
While Judas does receive money in exchange for his knowledge, money doesn’t seem to be his ultimate motivation (Matthew 27:3). Though we might never know his exact motivation, Judas’ betrayal cuts so deeply because it came from one of Jesus’ inner circle.
During the Passover meal, when Jesus revealed to the group his knowledge that one among them would betray him, notice the disciple’s reaction. They are afraid that by accident they might have betrayed Jesus (Mark 14:19). They might not be aware of Judas’ plot, but they are at least aware of their capabilities (or incapacities for obedience). And so we see Peter who protests at Jesus’ assertion that he would deny Jesus, only to do so hours later.
Judas’ story is best understood in contrast to the other characters in days leading up to Jesus’ death. For example, Peter’s triple denial of Jesus would, like Judas’ betrayal, also result in overwhelming grief. Yet, Peter manages to hang on and be restored by Jesus (could Judas have had a similar fate?). But the ultimate contrast comes in the story of the nameless woman that immediate precedes our passage (Mark 14:3-9). While Judas is an insider, she is an outsider. While Judas receives money in exchange for his acts, the woman pours costly oil on Jesus. While Judas betrays, she anoints.
The religious leaders, Peter, and Judas all fail. The nameless woman is obedient. Judas’ failure results in betrayal. While his actions seem egregious, seeing Judas as part of the plot of the Passover meal and Jesus’ death, it becomes clear that associating with Jesus doesn’t prevent us from misunderstanding Jesus or Jesus’ mission to heal the sick, feed the poor, redeem the world. Betrayal might happen with a kiss (14:45), and it can happen when we fail to worship and follow Jesus.
Prayer: Lord Jesus, help us to see you for who you are, and not merely for who we wish you to be. Continue, Holy Spirit, to transform us into your image.
1.Ponder a time you have experienced betrayal.
2.How are we more like Judas than we like to admit?
3. Take time to confess to Jesus any actions or inactions that foster feelings of shame or guilt.