Continuing in our journey together through the week before Jesus' death, this actually happened Tuesday (two days before the Passover Feast), but I'll talk about it today (since nothing is recorded in the Bible for Wednesday).
Now the Feast of Unleavened Bread, called the Passover, was approaching, and the chief priests and the teachers of the law were looking for some way to get rid of Jesus, for they were afraid of the people. Then Satan entered Judas, called Iscariot, one of the Twelve. And Judas went to the chief priests and the officers of the temple guard and discussed with them how he might betray Jesus. They were delighted and agreed to give him money. He consented, and watched for an opportunity to hand Jesus over to them when no crowd was present. Luke 22:1-6
The rat! One of the Twelve, Jesus' most trusted inner circle! How dare he? How could he? Let's back up a bit to an incident that happened the previous Friday in Bethany. Mary (of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus) took a jar of expensive perfume, and poured it on Jesus' feet, anointing him.
But one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, who was later to betray him, objected,"Why wasn't this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year's wages." John 12:4-5
Why, indeed? Read on...
He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put in it. John 12:6
Oh. Gotta love that commentary from Jesus' favorite disciple. And then Jesus responded:
"Leave her alone. Why are you bothering her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want. But you will not always have me. She did what she could. She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for my burial." Mark 14:6-8
In John's gospel, this little incident is reported in chronological order, so even before the triumphal entry into Jerusalem, but in each of the others, it's recorded right before Judas heads to the chief priests seeking to betray Jesus. I don't think that's a coincidence or a mistake. It seems that Matthew, Mark, and Luke all felt that the perfume incident was a direct antecedent to, and perhaps even a catalyst for Judas' betrayal.
I feel a little sorry for Judas. He gets a bad rap, but I think he honestly thought he was doing the right thing. He must have thought Jesus was a little crazy after the thing with the perfume--he must have felt like his teacher was losing it, and going to the chief priests, allowing them to take Jesus into custody, probably seemed like a prudent course of action. If Jesus is going insane, Judas must have thought, then it's for his own good that he be taken off the streets before he can hurt himself or others. Of course, it didn't hurt that the religious leaders were willing to pay Judas for his betrayal, given what we know about Judas' money habits.
Then there's this: yes, Judas had free will, we all do. Yes, Judas chose to do an evil thing. It was all Judas. But! God made Judas, created Judas from nothing, and God knew Judas' inmost thoughts, God knew what Judas would do when faced with that situation. Jesus knew that Judas would betray him and placed him in his inner circle anyway, because that was what needed to happen. The son of man needed to be betrayed, so that we all could receive forgiveness for our sins. It needed to happen, and Judas was the one chosen to do the deed. It was Judas' destiny. Now we can get all tied up in a discussion of predestination versus free will, but quite frankly, I don't want to do that right now. The point is, God knows each of us better than we know ourselves, and God placed Judas in that place, at that time, so that the scriptures would be fulfilled. I feel like, in some ways, we owe Judas a debt of gratitude.
Judas was sorry for what he had done. Matthew reports:
When Judas, who had betrayed him, saw that Jesus was condemned [to die], he was seized with remorse and returned the thirty silver coins to the chief priests and the elders. "I have sinned," he said, "for I have betrayed innocent blood."Matthew 27:3-4
Judas had no idea that Jesus was going to die as a direct result of his action. I like to think that God forgave Judas his sin. We know that God uses all circumstances, good and bad, to honor and glorify God, and it is certainly the case here. God used Judas' betrayal, his sin, to redeem the world. Thanks, in part, to Judas, we've been washed in the blood of the lamb, and made clean. We have been set free from the shackles that bind us to this imperfect world, and we are free to live the life of perfect communion that we were made for. Out of the devastation and destruction of our sins, the most beautiful things can happen. Only God has the power to do that.