Have you ever been betrayed by a friend? If so, you know how terrible it feels when a friend turns against you.
Our attention is drawn to the person of Judas Iscariot as we approach the Paschal Triduum. The Gospel readings in the beginning of this week present the character of Judas Iscariot and his role in Jesus’ passion. On Wednesday of Holy Week, however, the narrative intensifies as St. Matthew describes the betrayal of Judas specifically. Our Gospel account tells us that Judas went to the chief priests and asked for something in exchange for handing Jesus over and that he received thirty pieces of silver. Afterwards, he waited for the perfect moment for his betrayal. Catholics in Ireland in the nineteenth century called this day “Spy Wednesday” because from the time he received the pieces of silver, Judas watched every movement of Jesus, secretly looking for the right moment to inform the enemies of Jesus of the opportune time to arrest him. Judas acted as a spy for the enemies of Jesus.
A major question that comes up when reading this Gospel is: why would Judas betray Jesus whom he considered master and friend?
Some might point out that Judas betrayed Jesus because of money. We know that the love of money is the root of all evil, as St. Paul says (1 Tim 6:10). This root of evil is apparent in Matthew's Gospel, the only Gospel that shows Judas betraying Jesus in exchange for money. Some biblical commentators suggest that this presents to us the selfishness and greed of man. Origen interprets Judas’ willingness to take money in exchange for handing Jesus over as a sign of people’s willingness to accept sensual and worldly goods in exchange for handing over and casting out from their souls the same Jesus who came to dwell with them. According to Origen, some people are willing to betray Jesus for the sake of their selfish motives. This possibility that greed was the cause of this betrayal becomes stronger when we read in the Gospel of John that Judas complained about the waste of an expensive perfume, as he protested the lavish anointing of Jesus by the woman in Bethany.
However, the amount that was paid to Judas was not a big amount. Aside from man’s tendency toward greed, the Scriptures reveal a deeper significance to the betrayal of Jesus. In the book of Zechariah, we read: “they weighed out as my wages thirty shekels of silver. Then the Lord said to me, ‘Cast it into the treasury – the lordly price at which I was paid off by them’” (Zec 11:12-13). Zechariah prophesies that the Messiah will be paid with thirty shekels of silver because in this passage, Zechariah is describing the wage of a shepherd. However, thirty shekels of silver is also the cost of a slave, as it says in the book of Exodus, “if the ox gores a male or female slave, the owner shall pay to the slaveowner thirty shekels of silver, and the ox shall be stoned” (Ex 21:32). Zechariah, then, prophesied that the Messiah would become a shepherd and treated as a slave.
Judas’ betrayal becomes a reminder for us about our tendency to commit sin. Moreover, it is in this betrayal of Judas that we witness and experience God’s saving love for us. It became a catalyst for God's saving action - the passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ — the Good Shepherd. Thus, on this Spy Wednesday, let us reflect that, despite the many times we commit sin against God, God does not betray us. He humbles Himself to save us. Jesus Christ became one of us, but without sin, in order to save us. He does not abandon us but remains with us like a true friend.
Rev. Br. Joshua Gatus, O.P. | Meet the Brothers in Formation HERE