I don’t know about you, but I haven’t heard many sermons that focus on Judas Iscariot. And that kind of makes sense. This week I re-read all four accounts of Judas betraying Jesus, and I found them far more shocking than I ever have before.
Typically in the telling of the Passion Narrative, Judas’ betrayal is simply one of the catalysts that leads to Jesus’ arrest. But in the anticipation of the crucifixion and resurrection, I think we can miss this very early and very scandalous element of the story.
Mark’s account of the story is the most concise. In chapter 14, verses 10 and 11 we read, “Judas Iscariot, one of the Twelve, went to the chief priests to give Jesus up to them. When they heard it, they were delighted and promised to give him money. So he started looking for an opportunity to turn him in.”
In Luke and John, Judas’ betrayal is Satan’s fault — Luke 22:3 and John 13:2 both state that Satan entered into Judas and encouraged him to betray Jesus. But in Mark and Matthew this takes place completely out of the blue. They’re about to celebrate Passover, but just before that one of Jesus’ faithful disciples decides not just to deny him or to leave him, but to sell him out.
This is the sort of thing that gets prime time on our TV networks these days. Shows like House of Cards and The Sopranos shaped their plots on the themes of loyalty, power, greed, and betrayal, and all of those elements are at work when Judas betrays Jesus.
The difference, though, is that in those shows the person betrayed typically inflicts the punishment the betrayer ultimately suffers. In the biblical text, though, Jesus instead invites his betrayer to dinner. They celebrate Passover at the same table, while Jesus is fully aware of Judas’ deception and abandonment.
Jesus never fails to extend grace, even to those who treat him the worst. In the ultimate act of betrayal, Judas receives Jesus’ welcome rather than his punishment. And while the story doesn’t end well for Judas, Jesus is never the one to inflict harm upon him.
So may we, as faithful followers of Christ, accept His grace and love today. And may we be mindful this Holy Week of all of the good, the bad, and the difficult moments that led to the Passion of Christ.