22 Now the Festival of Unleavened Bread, called the Passover, was approaching, 2 and the chief priests and the teachers of the law were looking for some way to get rid of Jesus, for they were afraid of the people. 3 Then Satan entered Judas, called Iscariot, one of the Twelve. 4 And Judas went to the chief priests and the officers of the temple guard and discussed with them how he might betray Jesus. 5 They were delighted and agreed to give him money. 6 He consented, and watched for an opportunity to hand Jesus over to them when no crowd was present.
There’s something deeply sacrilegious at the beginning of this passage.
At a time when one of the great Feasts of Jewish tradition was approaching the religious leaders of the community were not preparing for the feast, but for murder. And the chief motivation for this activity was that they were afraid of the crowd. Despite providing religious leadership for the people they were frightened of the opinion of the crowd.
The relationship between leaders and the crowd is always a complex one. We see it in Parliament in all the difficulty of Brexit. According to our Parliamentary system MPs are not our delegates, they are our representatives, and they are required to go to Parliament and vote according to their conscience as opposed to voting according to the wishes of their electorate. This requires a special kind of leadership ability, and often it requires people who are not afraid of the crowd.
During the Passover upwards of 100,000 people would pack into Jerusalem and many, many of them would be fascinated to see and hear this maverick preacher Jesus. How much they believed what he was saying is open to question but nobody could deny he was quite a spectacle. But he was a threat to the powers of the day and they were desperate for a way to get rid of him and so I’m sure that the crowds didn’t know that they were plotting. To preserve their status and their power though, they were willing to contemplate the unthinkable.
Did Judas see an opportunity in the crowds to advance his political ideology of rebellion against Rome? Get rid of Jesus and force an uprising? Once again the crowd was a central feature of the plotting that was going on but they were probably unaware.
And at the centre of the whole drama was the one man Jesus. He seems particularly isolated at this stage. He’s safe in the city during the day when he’s surrounded by the crowds who are whipped up to a religious frenzy anyway at this time. But every night he has to sneak out of the city when the crowds melt away, because he knows his life is in danger.
The leadership sees this one man as a threat to their power. The revolutionary sees him as the spark to ignite a revolution. Either way Jesus has been dehumanised by both parties and his death is a price worth paying to uphold complementary ideologies.
And so a plot is hatched in secret, to do something in secret when there are no crowds around.
Jesus is threat or spark, whose death will further the aspirations of others, and so he can be treated as a nothing.
Everybody is using everybody else in the story. The leaders are using Judas, Judas is using the leaders and everyone is keeping the crowd in the dark but preparing to use them for their own ends. Everybody is using everybody in the story….except for Jesus.
He is the centre of attention for everybody, but he has no say in what is happening.
This is such a toxic form of violence. People are reduced to tools or instruments or weapons without their consent. People are to be used or abused to advance my cause or to further my ambition. This kind of thing happens all around us in all sorts of ways. It’s what the so-called corporate ladder was invented for—I climb at the expense of colleagues. We do it every time we tell a lie or a half truth to protect ourselves at the cost of damaging someone else.
It also happens every time we put our institutions, like the church, above the needs of people. So when we lie or dissemble to protect the institution and someone else suffers, we are following in a long, dishonourable line of plotters who, when they should be getting ready for worship, are committing murder.
Here are all the bible verses which reference Judas Iscariot, Matthew 10:4, 13:55, 26:14, 16, 25, 47-49, 27:1-5; Mark 3:19, 6:3, 14:10, 43-45; Luke 6:16, 22:1-4, 47-48; John 6:71, 12:4, 13:2, 13:26-30; 14:22, 18:2-6; Acts 1:16-18, 25. Why not take time to read all of them and reflect on his life and actions.
When you read and reflect think about how the deeper aspects of his life and motivation might find some parallels in your own. Are there any ways in which you feel compassion for Judas?
So here I stand again Lord,
In the opening days of Holy Week,
Facing into the heart of faith.
And what I see is deception
I see it in the religious leaders
I see it in Judas
And I am conscious of it in myself.
Thank you that even now
There is forgiveness.
Help me to walk in newness of life
Help me to walk in peace
Help me to walk in truth
This Holy Week
And forever more