Icon of Judas departing

Judas, why?

Today, Judas looks for a way to betray the Lord,
the Savior of the world before the ages,
who satisfied the multitude with five loaves.
Today the transgressor denies the Teacher;
though a disciple, he betrays the Master.
He sells for silver him who fed man with manna in the wilderness.
— from Matins of Holy Friday.
Today, Judas forsakes the Master,
and takes the devil for his friend.
He is blinded by the passion of avarice.
Darkened, he falls from the light.
He sold the Sun for thirty pieces of silver;
how then is he able to see?
But he who suffers for the world has risen as the dawn for us.
To him let us cry aloud: O thou who sufferest for us and with us, glory to thee!

In two days’ time, Christ enters the city of Jerusalem in a parody of a Roman triumph: Instead of a victorious general on a chariot, he’s an itinerant rabbi on a donkey colt. Instead of a parade of captured slaves and plunder, he’s followed by a ragged band of disciples.

But everybody recognizes this as the arrival of a King and Deliverer. They’re singing Psalm 117: “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!”

“Hosanna” is from verse 25 of that psalm: “O Lord, save now; O Lord, send now prosperity. Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” In Hebrew, that “Save now!” is הושיעה נא hôšîʿâ-nā; in the Aramaic of Christ's time, אושענא ʾōshaʿnā. They’re singing Osha na to a Man named Yehoshua: Singing “Save now!” to the One named “The Lord is Savior.”

The people welcome the King who raised Lazarus from the dead. But the religious establishment are well aware that besides “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord,” that psalm includes the scandalous line, “The stone which the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.” And out of fear and envy the chief priests and the Pharisees plotted to have the Lord killed (John 11:45-53).

Palm branches are waving like flags, flowers and coats are being thrown down to make a carpet to welcome the King, who rides straight up to the Evil Empire’s fortress Antonia. (The cheers rise to a crescendo! He’s finally doing it! Ha-Mashiach is going to evict the occupying enemies and bring in the Kingdom!)

And he rides right past the fortress, a little further, to the holy Temple – where he starts throwing down the vendors’ tables, disrupting everybody’s offerings. Now not only do the Temple priesthood want Christ dead, the people are confused and outraged as well.

Christ gathers together everyone’s hopes of deliverance and then shatters them at once into confusion. “Whoever falls on this stone will be broken; but on whomever it falls, it will grind him to powder.” Christ offers commentary on this text later in the same chapter, immediately after the triumphal entry and the cleansing of the temple (Matthew 21:33ff).

I think this subversion of expectations was Judas’ undoing.

We already know from the Gospels that greed was one of Judas’ passions.

But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (he who was about to betray him), said, “Why was this ointment not sold for a year’s wages 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. (John 12:4-6)

But it is an enormous leap from pilfering, to betraying the Master to the Sanhedrin. What made Judas even conceive of betraying Christ as a profitable plan?

Before he ever went to the priests, Judas’ whole world was shaken. His Rabbi and Master, the Deliverer of Israel, whose very name means “salvation,” threw away the moment when liberation might have begun. Christ’s not of this world kingdom fell on Judas — and it broke him.

Who was Judas the Iscariot? The Encyclopedia Britannica notes:

Judas’ surname is more probably a corruption of the Latin sicarius (“murderer” or “assassin”) than an indication of family origin, suggesting that he would have belonged to the Sicarii, the most radical Jewish group, some of whom were terrorists.

The reading “Judas the Sicarius” is interesting. Here is the Jewish Encyclopedia on Zealots:

Zealous defenders of the Law and of the national life of the Jewish people; name of a party opposing with relentless rigor any attempt to bring Judea under the dominion of idolatrous Rome, and especially of the aggressive and fanatical war party from the time of Herod until the fall of Jerusalem and Masada. The members of this party bore also the name Sicarii, from their custom of going about with daggers (sicæ) hidden beneath their cloaks, with which they would stab any one found committing a sacrilegious act or anything provoking anti-Jewish feeling.

These rebel assassins and terrorists were responsible for some of the first “False Flag” atrocities recorded:

At the beginning of the First Roman-Jewish War, the Sicarii, and (possibly) Zealot helpers (Josephus differentiated between the two but did not explain the main differences in depth), gained access to Jerusalem and committed a series of atrocities in an attempt to incite the population into war against Rome. In one account, given in the Talmud, they destroyed the city’s food supply, using starvation to force the people to fight against the Roman siege, instead of negotiating peace. (Wikipedia on Sicarii)

Besides Judas the Sicarius and Simon the Zealot, among Christ’s band of intimate disciples was Levi Matthew, the former tax collector (Luke 5:27-28) – a collaborator with the Roman occupiers, a traitor to his people: The natural enemy of a Zealot and Sicarius.

How is that for built-in tension? At least two of Christ’s disciples had sworn a patriotic oath to kill another of Christ’s disciples. Matthew’s continued survival depends on Simon and Judas remaining true to their repentance.

Yet the Lord, after praying through the night, with intention and foreknowledge, chose the Twelve – including Judas.

What an amazing power is given to repentance! A man divinely chosen, anointed, appointed, and for years a full-time companion of God in the flesh, fell from the light forever. Not because of the weight of his sins, but for lack of repentance.

Yet on the next day, a criminal who barely even knew the name of the Person dying next to him was saved from his sins by merely asking “Remember me!”

Both are sobering and full of hope.

Fr Silouan Thompson

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