A Spy Among Us

Then one of the Twelve, who was called Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and said, “What are you willing to give me if I hand him [Jesus] over to you?” They paid him thirty pieces of silver, and from that time on he looked for an opportunity to hand him over.
Matthew 26:14-16

Spy Wednesday is the day that Judas Iscariot went to the Pharisees and made the deal with them to hand Jesus over. In Matthew’s account, Judas asks them “what are you willing to give me if I hand him over to you?” (Mt 26:15). They agree to give him 30 pieces of silver, and from that moment, Judas was looking for an opportunity to hand Jesus over to them. (Mt 26: 14-16; Mk 14: 10-11; Lk 22: 1-6)

I think it’s easy to diminish Judas to the sum of his actions. The gospel writers certainly do, identifying him as the betrayer when the apostles are named (Mt 10:4) and making sure to point out that he had stolen from the money bag (Jn 12:6). Judas, however, did not hate Jesus. He had followed him for three years and became one of Jesus’ closest friends. On the contrary, it goes on to say in Matthew’s Gospel that Judas asks the Pharisees, “what are you willing to give me if I hand him [Jesus] over to you?” Judas is not motivated by hatred, but by greed.

The elders agree to give Judas 30 pieces of silver; not a significant value. 30 pieces of silver was the same “cheap price” paid to the rejected shepherd (Zech 11:12-13). It is also the same amount paid as the recompense for a lost or killed slave (Ex 21:32). Jesus, the rejected shepherd, was being sold as a slave.

Our Lord is not ignorant of any of this. In all four Gospels, Jesus announces during the Passover meal that one seated among them is to betray him. He also lays out a warning, saying woe to that man, and it would better had he never been born. The apostles are shocked and begin to ask Jesus one by one if they are the one who will do it. Judas is the last to ask, and Jesus tells him, “You have said so” (Mt 26:25). Jesus emphasizes the idea that the betrayer is someone who shares in table fellowship. The betrayer is someone who is close to him; a person who is like family to him. He then looks Judas in the eye and tells him, “What you are going to do, do quickly” (Jn 13:27).

So, Judas leaves, into the night, to alert the temple guards of their opportunity to arrest Jesus. He leads them to the Mount of Olives, a place Jesus has often gone to pray. He meets Jesus and greets him with a kiss, a sign of love and affection that has now become a sign of betrayal. The Passion of our Lord begins through a disordered and dishonest expression of love. Only at this point does Judas realize what he has done. He tries to return the money to the Pharisees in an attempt to back out of their agreement. They reject his offer, and taking a rope Judas hangs himself in his despair (Mt 27:3-10).

How are we like Judas? What masters do we serve instead of our Lord? Do we put money or comfort on too high a pedestal? What does it take for us to sell out Jesus in our jokes or conversations? What does it take for us to break our silence and stand for truth? Do we despair in our sins and reject the forgiveness of Jesus?

Let us pray for the pure devotion to give Jesus our best instead of selling him short in our daily lives. Let us pray to put Him first and refuse to let other things get in the way. But most of all, let us use today as an opportunity to reflect on our sinfulness and shortcomings with faith in the knowledge the Jesus forgives and gives life even to those broken and wounded by sin.

About the Author

Perry Rihl

I love Thai food, old books, and stupid puns. I'm married to a beautiful, patient, and holy woman and I live and work as a youth minister in the Diocese of Arlington, Virginia. God allows me to lead worship and retreats all over the place and you can follow me on Twitter @dprihl.

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