Most of us have lived a lifetime associating the name Judas with the betrayer of our Savior for a mere 30 pieces of silver. The painter Caravaggio captured the shadowy, heavy moment that followed, when Judas embraced Jesus with a kiss and called him “Rabbi” only to confirm his presence for the captors.
It is in this dark place today that we find ourselves in Jesus’ story—these final moments of Lent—bracing ourselves for the execution of an innocent man, our Lord, hung on a cross.Biblical scholars have long debated Judas’ motive for the betrayal: a wicked wrongdoer possessed by Satan or a greedy treasurer, to name a couple. Our temptation this Lent might be to categorize Judas as an arch-villain and quickly move past his treachery, longing for a sunnier Easter morning, the promise that an empty tomb brings, the glory of a Risen Jesus.
Not so fast.
We don’t get to Easter Sunday without dragging through this most difficult part of the story: the weight of sinfulness and our need for God’s mercy. Taking time to ponder a few “lesser known” characteristics of Judas can help us to see ourselves in this story and truly contemplate how it pertains to you and me.
Other details we know about Judas were that Jesus chose him; Judas left everything to follow Jesus. When Jesus spoke of the one who would betray him, Judas was not an obvious suspect. He was in Jesus’ inner circle. He was clearly loved by Jesus and the other Apostles, but also typical among them. This leaves us to understand that any devoted follower of Jesus is capable enough, or weak enough, to betray Him. It leaves us to reckon with the reality of our own sinfulness. Judas’ actions could have been played out by any of us. To paraphrase the apostle Paul: There but for the Grace of God go I (1 Cor 15:10).
Writing off Judas as some distant arch-villain only impedes our ability to see our need for God’s mercy and forgiveness. Judas, overcome with guilt and grief, didn’t stick around to come to know the hope and light of Easter Sunday. He wasn’t able to finally realize that no matter the magnitude of betrayal, harm or sin, God’s mercy prevails.
- What lessons might we take from pondering betrayal for the way we are coming to understand mercy, forgiveness, and God’s endless ability to love?
Krisanne Vaillancourt Murphy serves as the executive director of Catholic Mobilizing Network, the national Catholic organization dedicated to ending the death penalty and promoting restorative justice. Krisanne is co-author of Advocating for Justice: An Evangelical Vision for Transforming Systems and Structures, published by Baker Academic. She holds a masters in theology degree from Boston College (formerly Weston Jesuit School of Theology in Cambridge, Massachusetts).