First, lucre. St John says Judas was the treasurer for the Twelve and that it was love of money which caused him to sell his Master. Implausible? 30 silver shekels was a tidy sum, equivalent to 120 days' wages for a skilled labourer but…would you betray the Messiah, the Deliverer, for that? Answer: probably, yes. People have murdered their parents for less. Nonetheless…Greed really is the basest of motives. Would Judas renounce untold bliss in the Kingdom of Heaven for that?
Second, the Evil One. ‘Satan entered into Judas, called Iscariot’, relates St Luke. The devil was behind the betrayal. But diabolical action is not all-powerful, like God’s. Satan can only lead astray those already so predisposed. Had Judas been a good and faithful servant, the devil would have been powerless. Besides, Satan should not be a pretext to evade human responsibility.
Third, the Gethsemane scenario. Some have wondered about the coherence of Judas’ act. Christ had preached daily in synagogues and performed miracles before masses of thousands of people. His identity can hardly have been unknown. What need was there for Judas to identify him with the kiss?
Fourth, the most banal item of all, revolution. Judas’ name – Iscariot - is taken to mean the village of Kerioth, in Judaea. But others connect it with a sect of Jewish fanatics, sicarii in Latin, or assassins. So Judas would have been a Jewish nationalist or zealot. He believed Jesus to be the Messiah all right but, like many of his fellow Jews, he understood that as a political agitator. A sort of Che Guevara. A radical rebel intent on leading a bloody revolt against the alien rule of pagan Rome. Jesus, however, had other ideas as to what sort of Messiah he was. Hence Judas tried to force his hand. To get the Messiah, willy-nilly, to set off the great rebellion. Problem is, history is awash with religious fanatics. Indeed, Judaism’s subsequent history boasts of many Messiahs. Well, where are they now?
A faint echo of Judas’ socialist inclinations surface in St John’s Gospel. When Mary used costly nard ointment to anoint the Lord’s feet, the traitor sanctimoniously complained: ‘Why wasn’t this ointment sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?’ Not an unreasonable point to make for someone who regarded political and social action the summit and essence of religion. Of course, St John glosses it: ‘This he said not because he cared for the poor but because he was a thief’. It figures. Judas was a hypocrite. Invoking the poor was a trick to cover up his low motives.
Fifth, St John again indicates that Jesus knew from the beginning of Judas’ betrayal. ‘Did I not choose you, the Twelve, and one of you is a devil?’ (6:71-2). The traitor’s infamy was not accidental, therefore. It was foreordained, a necessary link in the chain of events leading to the Cross and to the Resurrection. Could not Judas boast of his ‘providential’ role and claim that in exculpation?
The creep was not totally bereft of conscience. No sooner did Judas realise the enormity of his crime, remorse made him try to give the money back. Two accounts exist in the New Testament on how he died. One affirms that he hanged himself, the other that he threw himself off a chasm and ‘he burst open in the middle and his bowels gushed out’. Either way, Judas took his own life. An ancient theologian speculated how Judas wanted to meet his Master in the next world, so to ask his forgiveness there. I don’t buy it.
We have now come to the end of Passion Week, leading up to Easter. The sinister figure of the Traitor appears in the Scripture readings for the first three days of Passion Week. However embarrassing, challenging and mysterious Judas may be, he can’t be doctored out of the Gospel narrative. Jesus and Judas are like light and darkness. Forever tantalisingly, if unequally, linked.
Back to the charade of British elections. The priest fears all the mainline parties are Judas parties. Is that too strong? It seems incontrovertible that they stand not with Jesus but with his betrayer.
Conscious of it or not, politicians are renegades. Traitors to the past Christian heritage of England. Enemies to the values, the principles, the true dictates of revelation. Can you name a single, genuine Christian policy the ruling partitocracy upholds? The poor? But you know how much socialist Judas really cared for them! Women? But look at the countless way women and men are sexualised and objectified. The NHS? It will gradually be privatised and dismantled, whichever party wins. All Judas stuff.
Yet don’t despair. Not Judas but Jesus triumphs at Easter. Because after the shame of the Cross comes the glory of the Resurrection!