Summary: Let's try to enter into the mind of Judas Iscariot, and learn something about ourselves
And Who Would Betray Him
Of all the men and women who followed Jesus during his active ministry on earth, one is a total enigma. He was one of the twelve apostles. He was the treasurer of the group, so he was educated to some extent. The name: Judas Iscariot, son of Simon Iscariot (Jn 6: 71). In every one of the ten examples where “Judas Iscariot” appears in the Gospels, some words like “who would betray” Jesus are attached. But what caused this infamous Gospel figure to become the paradigm of treason all across the world? For what reason did Judas Iscariot hand Jesus Christ over to be tried, convicted and murdered?
The Gospels advance only one explanation (Jn 12: 6). Judas had objected to Mary of Bethany “wasting” costly ointments on Jesus’ feet. He asked why the nard used had not been sold and “the proceeds given to the poor.” John opines, “This he said, not that he cared for the poor but because he was a thief, and as he had the money box he used to take what was put into it.” Otherwise, if the apostles speculated about the reasons for the betrayal, they did not put it into their writings. When it came time for the apostles, during the novena prior to the reception of the Holy Spirit, to replace Judas, Peter told the story of his buying a field with the thirty pieces of silver for the betrayal, but did not advance any reason for the treachery, just a veiled comment about Judas “turning aside” and going “to his own place.”
One theory that has gained currency in the past fifty years has made sense to me. And it has a meaning for our own following of Jesus. The idea is that Judas was actually a political activist, although probably not a community organizer, who wanted to expel the Romans from the Holy Land and restore the kingdom of David. He saw Jesus as the kind of charismatic leader who could rally the troops and effect the conquest. Now Jesus knew His culture; He was aware of groups like the Zealots who actively plotted to eliminate Romans. Simon (not Peter) is called “the Zealot” so He intimately knew at least one of these revolutionaries. The apostles were constantly trying to turn Jesus into the kind of leader who could lead thousands to victory. But He was having none of it. The only violence He preached was the divine plan for His own victory on the cross. Many of His disciples were very unhappy with this plan. In fact, even at Jesus' ascension, some were asking whether He was at that time going to restore "the kingdom of Israel."
Trying to enter into the mind of Judas is, then, a little simpler. Perhaps he thought he was getting himself into a “win/win” situation. At the crucial Passover, when Judas was aware that Jesus had already predicted His arrest and murder, and all the apostles were aware of the hatred the priests and Pharisees had for their Master, Judas approached the priestly class. He offered to identify the Galilean prophet–whom the Jerusalem leaders had probably never seen up close–and aid the detention. If Judas was correct, at some point Jesus Messiah would reveal Himself and call on legions of angels and followers to restore the kingdom. Short of that, he would at least have some money to begin again. We know that Satan entered into Judas at the Last Supper, probably at the time of his sacrilegious communion, so who knows what Judas saw as his end-game? When Satan enters in, one's mind becomes horribly confused.
When Jesus refused to fight, it is clear from the Gospels that Judas despaired, tried to buy back his Master, and when unsuccessful, probably bought some property to kill himself on. Thus ended a life that Jesus Himself said would have better never started.
Now what can we learn? Judas Iscariot is every man. He was tempted to choose his own path, turning aside from the path Jesus called him to walk, and he took it. That, I know, could be me, and has been me from time to time. I have sinned in my life, just like everyone here. We see what God wants us to do, and what He wants us to avoid, and we essentially tell Our Lord, “Nah, I have a way that pleases me more.” We go after a lesser good than God, and regret it later.
Thus praying daily for the grace of Christ to fill us so full that we almost instinctively choose the hard path of Jesus rather than the cushy path of our own devising is essential. Let’s make that a priority, and I promise you none of us will ever have cause for regrets.