They promised to pay him

April 30, 2013

Dear brothers and sisters,

I am taking the good news today from Mark 14:10-11.

Then Judas Iscariot, one of the Twelve, went off to the chief priests to hand him over to them. When they heard him they were pleased and promised to pay him money. Then he looked for an opportunity to hand him over.

I don’t think that Judas betrayed Jesus for the money per se even though all the gospels report that he took money from the chief priests for the information he provided. Matthew and John both explicitly relate that Judas was motivated by greed or the excessive desire for money. Luke and John tell us that Satan entered Judas as he shared his last meal with Jesus. All of this may be speculation unless some of those present and complicit passed on the story. Regardless, there is something insidious about money.

What did it represent to Judas? What need did it satisfy — at least briefly? It wasn’t enough to make him a rich man; I don’t think it had any material value to him. Jacob Needleman in Money and the Meaning of Life states something very interesting, “[G]reed is inevitable in the absence of an inner aim.” I think what happened to Judas was that he had come to realize that Jesus was not going to fulfill his own expectation of the Messiah, the deliverer of Israel from the Romans. In that dawning realization he lost his inner aim, the motivation that drove him, maybe even obsessed him. He had witnessed Jesus’ ability to draw thousands of people and how they reacted to him. He had seen with his own eyes the miracles Jesus had performed. Jesus was the one who could save Israel and drive out the interlopers.

Now he saw that Jesus was intent on marching to his own death at the hands of the hated Romans. That aim that he had been so intent upon was gone, replaced by emptiness. Jesus was an idea to Judas and a means to an end, not the Son of God. He wasn’t connected to the mind and heart of Jesus like John or Peter. He didn’t love him; he only wanted to use him to satisfy his own ambition. So what did the silver represent to Judas? Satisfaction of a desire for retribution, compensation for the pain of being denied and disappointed. Judas had no plan B, no other way to achieve that single-minded inner aim that had been driving him. He had nothing to fill the emptiness and so greed entered into his heart; Satan filled the emptiness promising to make the pain of disappointment and disillusionment go away. The silver represented a good bargain, so he thought.

Satan opened the door for Judas to sheol, the lower world or hell of the Hebrew Bible. Needleman writes, “Sheol is simply and solely the place of shadows, dark, weak existence, continually fading, ever-paler life. Sheol is the realm of diminishing being….It is the movement toward absence, the movement away from God….[T]he condition of ever-increasing distance from I am, from one’s own conscious presence in the midst of life.” Judas had distanced himself from Jesus, from God. God was absent from this bargain.

There is something indeed insidious about money when I seek and use it to fill the emptiness within me. John Kenneth Galbreath writes in The Affluent Society, “[B]eyond doubt, wealth is the relentless enemy of understanding.” When I didn’t have enough money, it was always the remedy to my problems. When I have had enough for my needs, I dream of things I would like to have or do. There is always more to be had. Both represent a kind of greed that reveals a lack of understanding of the right aim of having God as the central concern of my life. A kind of greed that reveals the emptiness inside me, my diminishing being.

To me that’s the tragic story of Judas’ betrayal. It was a betrayal of his own life, a life with Jesus. It’s a tragedy that I sometimes relive in my own life.



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