Judas – Betrayer or Confused Disciple?

I wonder about Judas. Judas is remembered as the disciple who betrayed Jesus. Most often we ask how he could have sold his friendship for thirty pieces of silver. We wonder what was going through his mind. Was he angry, upset, frustrated with the direction Jesus was going? Was money that important to him? Did he feel left out of the inner circle of Jesus’s disciples? Was he upset with the others? Indeed, what was he thinking?

We are left to speculate on what possessed Judas to act as he did. Two of the gospels say that “Satan entered him.”Luke 22:3-4  When Jesus was tempted by Peter to avoid Jerusalem and death, he said to Peter, “Get behind me Satan.” Matthew 16:23 In the gospels, Satan is a symbol for temptations, one that would take a person away from good. And yet, Peter who had just heard Jesus say that in Jerusalem he would be facing suffering and death, protested saying, “God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.” Matthew 16:22 Peter’s words came from his heart as he tried to change the reality Jesus would endure. Yet, Jesus responded with “Get behind me Satan.”

Was it just frustration that Jesus was not the warrior king Judas thought he was? Was the temptation that Judas gave in to, a belief that if he could “out” Jesus as the Messiah then his deepest dreams for Israel would be realized? Was it one of those, “It looked like a good idea at the time” disasters? Did he think that the arrest would force Jesus’ hand?  Was it that he thought Jesus would declare himself Messiah and king?   Then those people who followed Jesus, cheering in that Palm Sunday parade, would be there to crown him King during the Passover Festival.

In the years I’ve tried to make sense of Judas’s betrayal, more and more I’m drawn to a belief that far from intending to harm Jesus, Judas had planned to push him to do what Judas  believed was Jesus’ purpose.  Impatient with Jesus’ slow pace, Judas took matters into his own hands.  Only to realize how incredibly wrong he was.  He couldn’t live with those 30 pieces of silver.  The silver had become something repulsive, to be rid of. All of this leads me to believe that Judas’s plan went terribly awry. Instead of Jesus being declared King and taking what Judas believed to be his rightful and just place in Jerusalem’s palace, everything that Judas had hoped for fails. Rather than a reluctant leader stepping forward, a good friend dies on a cross. For Judas an even more critical moment comes when he takes his own life, not knowing resurrection hope and forgiveness waited for him on Sunday.  Whatever his true motivations were, Judas’s name became reviled in history.  What he set out to do when he started to follow Jesus, eluded him.  Whatever he may have told himself was for the good, became his greatest failure.

Some of my worst mistakes have come when I thought that I was doing good. They came at moments when I thought I was a being a wise counselor, a considerate supervisor, a Christ-centered pastor. Rather than the good I thought I was doing, I had instead betrayed the trust placed in me. *Christine Chakoian offers these words of grace for people like us, “Jesus took the Passover bread and gave it to us, we are invited to remember that Jesus offered his life for us not when we were particularly worthy, charming, faithful, or successful, but when we betrayed him . . . it was not just a thoughtful gesture or passing promise that Jesus left us, but a divine, eternal vow, unbreakable by human failure.”

*Taken from the Feasting on the Gospels  Year C, Volume 2 page 272.