A Catholic Monthly Magazine

The enigma of Judas

Bill Lambert

Bill Lambert

“One of you is going to betray me…”

To many of us, one of the greatest enigmas in the New Testament is the betrayal of Jesus by Judas.

Named as one of the original 12 apostles Jesus chose, Judas would have been close to him for perhaps as long as three years. How could he not have come to love him so deeply that the thought of betrayal was hardly possible? Or was he fated to do it?

Let’s assemble what facts we have. We know that Judas was a petty thief. The other apostles thought he was stealing from their common purse. John 12 4-6

He was a hypocrite: “The costly nard which was poured over Jesus could have been sold for 200 denarii and given to the poor.” The gospel writer hints that Judas really has his eye on that money.

We’re told that “Satan entered Judas at the time of betrayal.” He betrayed Jesus with a kiss – a sign of friendship like shaking hands these days. The price of Jesus was 30 pieces of silver –about the price of a slave or enough to buy a vacant clay field for the burial of strangers. And finally we’re told that Judas was so overcome with remorse that he hanged himself. Jesus knew that Judas intended to betray him. And said “What you are about do, do more quickly.” (John 13:27)

The Betrayal by Caravaggio

The Betrayal by Caravaggio

Gospel scholar Father Jim Kershaw reckons that Judas was the son of Simon the Leper, and was the brother of Martha, Mary and Lazurus. The name Iscariot indicates Man of Karioth, a local town. Judas was probably a Pharisee.

Gospel scholar William Barclay wonders that the other apostles suspected nothing, or Judas would never have got out of the last supper in one piece. Proof of this is the fact that Judas was apparently present when Christ appeared to them after his resurrection. Mark 14:14 tells us that Jesus appeared to the eleven, and John tells us that Thomas was the one absent.

A possible explanation for the betrayal is that Judas was a Zealot – one of those Jews seeking to overthrow the Roman mastery of his people. As we see with the Muslim radicals today, such ones see things in terms of black and white and believe they are justified using any means to achieve what they believe is right. Judas had imagined Jesus was going to inspire a revolt against Rome, and his disillusionment was so bitter that he betrayed him.

Another possibility is that his fellow Pharisees conned Judas into setting up a trap meeting on the pretext that they wanted to find out what Jesus was really about. Certainly, some of them could not make him out. We know it was night time when Jesus was arrested, but surely Judas could have seen the temple guards with weapons and torches?

Was Judas fated to betray Jesus in the prophesies, because Jesus already knew what he intended? No - the fact that is that while Jesus knew what Judas would do, it did not interfere with his free will to make that fateful decision.

To add further confusion, Muslims believe that Judas offered to give his life in the place of Jesus. By a miracle Judas was made to resemble Jesus, and was mistakenly arrested and crucified by the Jews. Jesus was bodily lifted to heaven, they say.

So there we are – more questions than answers.

But another question we can’t help asking: Will we meet Judas in the next world? His remorse was so great that he killed himself in despair. On the face of it, it seems he had a pretty raw deal.

Who are we to judge the mercy of God?

I reckon Judas might scrape home!

e-mail: the.lamberts@paradise.net.nz


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