In many parts of the Christian family, today is known as “Spy Wednesday,” in commemoration of Judas’s clandestine meeting with the authorities in Jerusalem, where he accepted thirty pieces of silver in exchange for betraying Jesus.
I’ve often wondered what motivated Judas to give Jesus up. Perhaps it was the money–John’s Gospel points out (in chapter 12) that Judas was the treasurer for the disciples–he “carried the money box,” or the “purse,” depending on the translation you read. In this scenario, Judas was a thief, often tempted by the money he carried on behalf of the other followers of Jesus. If he was skimming off the top, or cooking the books, he surely would have jumped at the chance to make a little extra coin, even at the expense of his friend and master, Jesus. But, as is often the case, things are more complicated than they first seem.
Both Luke and John also suggest that it was “Satan,” the devil, who entered into Judas, and thus caused him to betray Jesus. This explanation, while somewhat satisfying, has problems, because it almost excuses Judas of his actions, saying “The Devil made me do it!” Unless, of course, you consider that Judas had to let the Evil One into his heart in order for such a course to happen.
Others have suggested that Judas betrayed Jesus because he (Jesus) didn’t live up to expectations. In this scenario, Judas wanted Jesus to overthrow the oppressive Roman government, and take control over Israel, ushering in the worldwide Messianic Age. Perhaps Judas had been heartened by the palm branches and kingly overtones of Palm Sunday, and was hoping the Jesus might just be THE ONE who would usher in a new era of peace and prosperity for Israel. Perhaps he was disheartened when he found out that Jesus had a completely different plan in mind.
So, maybe he did it because of the money, maybe Satan got into him somehow and made him do it, maybe he did it because he was disappointed with Jesus’ role as Messiah and king. Or maybe it was something else. Or maybe it was some combination of all of these reasons. For whatever reason, Judas did what he did, and because of his actions, and the actions of many others who felt threatened by Jesus’ teaching, Jesus went to the cross, died, and was laid in the tomb.
Regardless of the reason for Judas’s betrayal, it was ultimately necessary for the betrayal to take place, in order for Jesus to fulfill his mission on earth. In being crucified, Jesus set up an existential mirror before the world, saying, “Behold, what humankind has wrought!” When we look at the cross, we look at the cruelty of humanity writ large, and we witness what the lengths to which humans will go to suppress the love and compassion of God. When confronted with the One who can bring peace, we react with violence. When we see the mercy of God on display, we respond with hatred and anger. When we hear the call to care for the least, lost, and lonely of the world, we enact legislation that protects the wealthy, powerful, and controlling. This is what the crucifixion shows us, as we gaze with horror on what we do every day to those whom God has given us as a gift.
The action of God’s grace on the cross is a reminder to us of the cost of loving others–pain, anguish, and sometimes death. Rather than being a deterrent, however, the image of the cross should encourage us to love all the more, for the cross is simply a reminder to us of the resurrection that is to come, the celebration of Easter that never ends! In the cross, we are reminded that pain will be replaced with joy, anguish will be wiped away by God’s comfort, and death will be defeated by eternal life. So, in a way, Spy Wednesday is as important to us as Good Friday and Easter, for without it, and those events which followed, we would not be where we are today.
Happy Spy Wednesday!