15 November 1999, 17:55
During supper, a woman came in with a beautiful jar of expensive perfume and poured it over His head. The disciples were indignant when they saw this...Then Judas Iscariot, one of the twelve disciples, went to the leading priests and asked, "How much will you pay me to betray Jesus to you?"
—Matthew 26:6-8, 14-15
I understand Judas. The greatest, deepest betrayal in all history is suddenly, perfectly clear. Many have seen Judas as an embodiment of greed, even suggesting a cover-up of embezzelment. Others attribute a political agenda to his act. Jealousy might also have played a role. But I see something else:
Jesus disappointed Judas.
He didn't understand. The signs were clear, the teachings full of virtue and truth. Even though it stretched him, Judas saw the compassion and generosity of Jesus, and it drew him to the man. Not just the man— the Messiah! Yes, this was the Deliverer, the Promised One.
But recently, He spoke of death. He turned the tables upside-down and called the religious leaders vipers. It was confusing, but Judas determined to be steadfast. This, after all, was still the Messiah, and Judas didn't expect to understand everything He did.
Then came the dinner in Bethany, at Simon the leper's house, when the woman anointed Him. It was senseless, pointless extravagance— a waste! The movement had come so far, and now, when they faced opposition like never before, now this waste.
They had seen so many poor and suffering. From Jesus, Judas had learned compassion, to let his heart break for their needs. Generosity didn't come easily or naturally, but Judas came to hope in the Messiah. He saw the way out for his oppressed nation, heard the promise of a Kingdom he longed for, even if he didn't fully understand.
But the Messiah was mad. He was so caught up in this strange idea of His own death that He lost sight of all the good they could do. Everyone saw it that night. They all felt uncomfortable, knowing how much good the price of that perfume could have done. His answer didn't satisfy. Something had to be done. Judas knew what had to be done. Maybe no one else saw, or had the courage to do what was necessary, but he did. And he would do it.
Honestly, Judas felt abandoned by this Jesus. He knew he couldn't follow Him anymore. Better to turn Him over if He wouldn't come to His senses, salvage what remained of the movement and make some alliances with the people who could help their work last. Judas didn't care much about how low the price was. Sure, he'd take it, but it was never about the money. He wasn't that shallow. Maybe he was once, but he was on a nobler path now, a path he would see through to the end.
Doesn't betrayal usually spring from disappointment? It does for me. I don't even see the contradiction, just like Judas. When Jesus isn't who I expect Him to be, I shatter the frail faith I have and turn, never letting go of the self-image that allows me to live with myself. I fail to see that I've been deceived, taken in. When God has disappointed me, I never wait for Him to show me something new and wonderful about Himself. I rarely even cry out to Him, because I fear either silence or an answer. The only safety is to turn, to hold onto my own small god and yet resent him for not being bigger. In the end, I abandon him, too, because by then, what's the difference?
In stubbornness, Judas walked his path. Betrayal, motivated by disappointment. Selfishness and greed quickly filled the emptiness, and I wonder if he ever saw it until the end.
At the end, he saw the gravity of what he had done. He never intended for Jesus to die, or at least never admitted to himself that he was willing to be a murderer. His hope was in the rightness of his actions, and when that illusion vanished, so did the hope. Judas was left only with himself, a person he could only hate. Never letting himself believe the promise of God's love, he had only despair.
It is frightening and freeing to see it all so clearly. Like Ebenezer Scrooge on Christmas morning, I know it's not too late for me. I understand Judas, but I see his folly. I know the same snare lies in wait for me at every turn, set by the same enemy. My hope, my only hope, is in the mysterious, extravagant, surprising Christ. My disappointments in Him shatter dreams too small, not the faith that is a precious, imperishable gift from God— my Father.