The story of Judas, which has long become a household name, is one of betrayal and despair. The word “Judas” is known even by those who have never read the Gospel and have an extremely vague memory of the man who betrayed the Lord to death. Why did he do it? Over the past centuries, various assumptions have been put forward. We cannot read the thoughts of this person, but it is clear that the main reason for his betrayal is the mere lack of faith.
He simply does not believe that Jesus is Who he claims to be. At the same time, there are things that he can see clearer than the rest of the Apostles. Let us recall the Gospel scene where Mary anoints the Savior’s feet with precious ointment:
“Mary therefore took a pound of ointment of [b]pure nard, very precious, and anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped his feet with her hair: and the house was filled with the odor of the ointment. But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples, that should betray him, said, Why was not this ointment sold for three hundred shillings, and given to the poor? He said this, not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief, and having charge of the moneybag he used to help himself to what was put into it. Jesus said, “Leave her alone, so that she may keep it for the day of my burial. 8 For the poor you always have with you, but you do not always have me.” (John 12: 3-8)
Mary and Judas seem to be the only two people who can see the writing on the wall. The apostles, who are also seeing the coming climax, are still uncertain about what it is going to be. Although the Lord has already told them several times that He will be captured, humiliated, tortured and killed, they expect something else. As Luke and Cleopas say, not recognizing the Risen One on the road to Emmaus, “But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things happened.” (Luke 24:21) They hope for God’s intervention and the deliverance of Israel, albeit through drama or a catastrophe that may appear as nearly a defeat? The impetuous Peter has already prepared a sword, which he will soon use to cut off Malchus’s ear. He is awaiting a final battle. But when the battle does not happen, and the enemies simply take Jesus, bind him and lead him to a shameful death, he collapses and deserts Christ.
Mary and Judas have no illusions. They understand that Jesus will soon be dead and buried. Mary knows that there is nothing she can do except for this last act of love and sorrow. Judas sees things differently. He knows that it is time to disappear. He is annoyed because he could use the three hundred (equivalent to annual earnings of a day laborer).
Judas does not believe that before him is the Savior of the world. He believes that before him is a failed contender for the role of the Messiah, who will now be killed if he does not run before it’s too late and who, for some reason, does not want to escape. Judas sees the need to flee the sinking ship, and at the same time (since Jesus is already doomed) to improve his relations with the authorities and to reward himself somewhat for the three years that he sees as lost in vain.
How could Judas not have faith after being with the Apostles all these three years and and personally witnessing the miracles of the Lord feeding the five thousand, calming the storm and, just recently, resurrecting Lazarus? The high priests and all those who sought the death of Christ also knew about these miracles and witnessed some of them. But unfortunately seeing miracles does not necessarily make a person a believer. Sometimes we hear ideas like “If God wanted to make people believe, He could perform miracles more often.Why wouldn’t He give the mocking unbelievers some sign?” He could have, but the trouble is that it would do no use. The resurrection of Lazarus led some to faith and embittered others. It is hard to tell what those “others” were thinking. Perhaps they saw it as some kind of a cunning hoax where Lazarus spent three days in the tomb seeking to deceive everyone. Maybe they found some other explanation or, perhaps, they did not bother with explanations at all, simply rejecting this miracle, similarly to many unbelieving researchers of the New Testament who admit to not having an intelligible explanation of the Paschal faith of the Apostles, but are sure that Jesus, of course, did not rise, because the Resurrection is a miracle, and miracles, as it is known “to all modern people “, do not exist.
Perhaps the disbelieving contemporaries of the Lord had their own reasons and explained everything either by the hysteria of the crowd, hallucinations or some fake that those simpletons readily believed in. In this context, the behavior of Judas makes perfect sense. Miracles can support a believer’s faith, but a person who simply does not want to repent and believe will always find a way to either explain or ignore them.
The shocking fact is that Judas, as well as others who hated and killed the Lord knew Him personally. This means that a sinless person can arouse intractable hatred. The idea that if we are virtuous enough, everyone will love us is a pure illusion. The church founded by Christ will evoke hatred not so much by the sins of its members, as by the very fact that it was founded by Christ. “It is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household.” (Matthew 10:25)
The Church is a community of repentant sinners. Sometimes it looks as a community of non-repentant sinners deserving to be punished, but this is not the reason why the church is hated. There are many sinners in every social group – scientists, politicians, journalists, doctors… A five-minute search on the Internet will provide you with vivid examples of cruelty, greed, deceit and neglect of duty. But only the church has saints, only the Church has Christ, and it alone will provoke animosity. This animosity can manifest itself in bloody persecution, as it was in our country under the atheist regime and as it is now happening in the countries of the “Arab Spring”. It may also be limited to isolated acts of vandalism, occasional attacks and massive vilification in the media and the Internet. But one way or another, we must be aware that Christians in Syria or Iraq are persecuted not because they “supported a dictatorial regime,” but for the name of Christ. You will not buy the sympathy of the enemies of the church by agreeing to play their games and follow their rules. Their hostility is not caused by political reasons, and not by the wrong policies of the hierarchs. Its reasons have been known for a very long time. “If the world hates you, know that it hated me before it hated you.” (John 15:18) Trying to win their sympathy may lead us on a very dangerous path.
The story of Judas is also one of despair. He died not because of his betrayal as such, but because of failure to repent caused by his despair. The Lord forgave Peter who denied Him thrice; He also made His fierce persecutor Saul an apostle. If Judas repented and turned to the Lord, he would also be forgiven. Not believing in the other miracles performed by Christ, he also had no faith in His great mercy forgiving everyone who comes to Him with repentance and faith.
Translated by The Catalogue of Good Deeds