January 23, 2013
Dear brothers and sisters
I am taking the good news today from Matthew 27:3-10.
Then Judas, his betrayer, seeing that Jesus had been condemned, deeply regretted what he had done. He returned the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders, saying, “I have sinned in betraying innocent blood.” They said, “What is that to us? Look to it yourself.” Flinging the money into the temple, he departed and went off and hanged himself. The chief priests gathered up the money, but said, “It is not lawful to deposit this in the temple treasury, for it is the price of blood.” After consultation, they used it to buy the potter’s field as a burial place for foreigners. That is why that field even today is called the Field of Blood. Then was fulfilled what had been said through Jeremiah the prophet, “And they took the thirty pieces of silver, the value of a man with a price on his head, a price set by some of the Israelites, and they paid it out for the potter’s field just as the Lord had commanded me.”
Matthew tied up the loose ends of the story for us. Luke in Acts of the Apostles was the only other writer to include the death of Judas, although by a different means.
This is an age-old story of using people for one’s own ends. The chief priests and the elders needed Judas; they needed an insider to provide information that could be used to condemn Jesus and they needed someone to tell them where he could be found away from the madding crowds. They were wiling to pay for the assistance; it was worthwhile information. Judas was a willing participant and undoubtedly expected to be treated well as an additional reward. Once the authorities had what they needed they no longer had any use for Judas. They turned their backs on him in his pitiful remorse for his complicity in the crime, the crime of convicting an innocent man.
I have used people over the years, pretending to be genuinely interested in them when what I really wanted was not friendship but something they could do for me. When I got what I wanted I no longer invested any more time or energy in the relationship, sometimes even turning my back on them the next time they approached expecting to be treated as a friend.
Judas was a partner in this scheme, though. He used the authorities as well to achieve his purpose. Though he was ultimately remorseful, the damage had been done, evil had been perpetrated. It would be easy to judge that he got what he deserved. The interesting thing, though, is that God didn’t punish him. In his remorse and anguish and pain, he forgot what Jesus had preached — forgiveness. He forgot that all he had to do was ask God for forgiveness and it would have been granted. He would have experienced God’s love. He took the first step in being sorry, but he didn’t take the next. He was still so focused on himself, his own sin and weakness, that there was no room for God’s forgiveness and love. He was immersed in darkness; no light could penetrate it.
All the time he spent with Jesus, all the miles they trudged together, all the words he heard Jesus speak, all the love that Jesus showed him. It was all of no use to Judas when he needed it most. I think it’s because he failed to truly believe that Jesus was the Son of God, the Messiah. So, in a way, Judas represents the Jewish people in his time. Most were not able to accept him as the Son of God, the Messiah because he didn’t conform to their expectations and longings. They were complicit in his death just as Judas was.
I know people today who have turned their backs on God because he has failed to meet their expectations and longings. They have written Him out of their lives; they no longer have any use for Him. They have forgotten or they never knew the healing of God’s forgiveness and the sweetness of His love. That is a tragedy just as Judas’ death was a tragedy. My responsibility is not to turn my back on them, not to judge them. My responsibility is to love them, is to share with them my relationship with God, to care for them no matter what but always in the context of God’s forgiveness and love.