“Then one of the Twelve—the one called Judas Iscariot—went to the chief priests and asked, ‘What are you willing to give me if I deliver him over to you?’ So they counted out for him thirty pieces of silver.” Matthew 26:14-16
I’ve worked—and worshipped—under many different leaders. While most of the time I’ve been content and even grateful, I have also experienced anger, frustration and deep disappointment. But I’ve never been so disillusioned or angry that I actively sought my leader’s demise. Which makes Judas all the more shocking.
Judas went to the authorities not as a whistleblower but as a betrayer. He actively sought out the men who wanted to get rid of his Teacher. He was driven not by ideological disappointment but by personal gain: “What will you give me?” He was not motivated by any lack of money, but the love of money.
In his commentary, Matthew Henry points out that “this covetous wretch …comes basely cringing to the priests with, What will ye give me?… They did not send for him, nor make the proposal to him; they could not have thought that one of Christ’s own disciples should be false to him.”
Thirty pieces of silver would be equivalent to half a year’s wages for a workman ($12,000-$15,000 by today’s estimates). It was enough to buy a field which became a burial ground for the poor. (Think an abandoned city lot; no one buys prime real estate as a final resting place for paupers.)
Henry adds wryly that “when there were but twelve, and one of them was a devil, surely we must never expect any society perfectly pure on this side heaven.”
In his song, “Why” Michael Card captures the pain of being thrown under the bus by a close friend:
Only a friend can betray a friend/a stranger has nothing to gain.
And only a friend comes close enough/To ever cause so much pain
But enough about Judas, this faithless “frenemy.” What about Jesus, who knew Judas’s character when he selected him as one of the Twelve? He chose to include Judas in the intimate setting of his last meal. He even called Judas “friend” when he showed up with armed guards and a club-wielding mob.
Our rebellious hearts can be more like Judas than we want to admit. In his movie The Passion, Mel Gibson filmed his own hand holding the hammer and driving the nails. He recognized that theologically speaking, we are Judas. Our sins put Christ on the cross. Yet—and here is the great mystery of grace, or unmerited favor—because of God’s grace, those sins stay on the cross, not on our record.
It was my sin that held Him there/Until it was accomplished
His dying breath has brought me life/I know that it is finished
Stuart Townsend, “How Deep the Father’s Love for Us”