Traditionally this day in Holy Week has been called Spy Wednesday, because the gospel at Mass tells of the connivance of Judas Iscariot with the enemies of Jesus, and his spying on Jesus, seeking a way of betraying him to them with the least amount of turmoil.
What do we know about Judas? He and another of the twelve apostles bore the same name. We call the other one Saint Jude, but in Hebrew the names are the same. Jesus had chosen them and ten others to be his closest friends, disciples and associates. On Holy Thursday night, he made them priests and the first bishops of his church. Those who remained faithful to him occupy a unique and incomparable place in the history of salvation. We pray in the first eucharistic prayer at Mass for “all who hold and teach the catholic faith that comes to us from the apostles.” Judas was intended for that honor and privilege, but he rejected it.
Our Lord had evidently made Judas the treasurer of the little band of Jesus himself and the twelve. Contributions of money given to them were entrusted to Judas, and maybe he did the shopping for the needs of the group. But at some point in his life, Judas began to drift away emotionally and psychologically from the group, and from Jesus. He began to pilfer from the small amount of money that he was in charge of. Saint John tells us that “Judas was a thief.” How sad—that he would have so alienated himself from the others that he would steal from them and become a sneak and a pickpocket. There couldn’t have been much to steal, but when love dies and is replaced by alienation, there is no limit to what evil one might do to those he once loved.
His pilfering caused Judas to desire even more money. So when Our Lord and the apostles went down to Jerusalem that year for the Passover, and Judas became aware that the religious leaders of the nation were seeking a way to silence Our Lord, Judas hatched a plot to earn more money. He went to the chief priests and said to them, “How much will you give me if I betray him to you?” How much? He wanted money . . . money . . .money! Does that sound familiar? Are you aware of what some people will do for money?
They agreed upon a sum of money, and then Judas gave them a sign by which he would identify Jesus in the darkness of night when they sent their soldiers to apprehend him. “The one whom I kiss,” he said. This pathetic, despicable man chose a kiss—a sign of love—to betray the Lord who truly loved him so much.
When the deed was done and Jesus was in the hands of his enemies, Judas seems to have been surprised and perhaps horrified to realize that they intended to kill Jesus. Maybe Judas had not bargained for that. To arrest him? Yes. But to kill him . . .? And especially by the horrible death of crucifixion? Judas goes back to those who had given him the money and wanted to give it back to them. “I have betrayed innocent blood,” he cried out. “That’s YOUR problem,” they answered cynically. Since they wouldn’t take the money back, and it was burning his conscience, he flung it into the temple treasury to get rid of it.
And then, he made his most terrible mistake: he did not trust the mercy of God to forgive him. He should have known that Christ is a God of mercy, pardon, forgiveness. But he seemed to think that his crime was so monstrous as to be unforgivable. He probably didn’t believe that Jesus would rise again, and there was no time before Our Lord’s death to approach him and beg forgiveness. So Judas, in a deep depression of remorse and guilt, went out and hanged himself. He could have become Judas, the apostle and saint. Instead, he became Judas, the betrayer.
Let us learn from Judas. Let us recognize that small sins lead to larger ones and can be very dangerous. But above all, let us learn that God is a God of mercy, and never fail to throw ourselves upon that divine mercy. Let us make our own the famous “Jesus Prayer” used by Christians for centuries: Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me, a sinner! Thank you for seeking God’s truth. God bless you. Father Victor Brown, O.P.
Note: This message was composed some years ago.