Judas & Despair — He Never Knew the Lord, Wednesday of Holy Week, April 19, 2000

Fr. Roger J. Landry
St. Marienhaus, Germany
Wednesday of Holy Week
April 19, 2000
Is 50:4-9a; Mt 26:14-25

Today for the third straight day, the Church presents for our reflection the betrayal of Judas. Over the past couple of days, we have compared him to Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus, and to Peter. We saw that Judas, despite his being one of the Twelve Jesus personally chose, despite his very close association with the Lord for over 1000 days, never really knew the Lord and never really loved him. Today we will turn to the most tragic aspect of Judas’ life, his final despair, in the hope that we may learn from his most terrible of sins and turn to the Lord as we prepare to enter into the most sacred mysteries of our faith this Triduum.

In your living room here at St. Marienhaus, there is a beautiful and large picture of the end of today’s Gospel, when Judas says to the Lord in the Upper Room, “Surely not I, Rabbi.” Judas is depicted pointing to himself while asking the question, as if smugly and naturally trying to cover his mendacity. The expression on Jesus’ face is one of almost complete shock at the gall and guile of this man to try to continue to try to deceive him even after Jesus gave his flesh and blood in the Upper Room (cf. Luke’s account), even up to two hours before he brought a band of thugs to arrest the Lord and betrayed him with a kiss. Peter stands behind Jesus with his hands clenched, almost as if he wants to strangle Judas, and John rests on Jesus’ chest with a certain look of fear toward Judas, whom Jesus had just revealed by giving him a dipped morsel of bread. Up until the very end, Judas continued TO LIVE THE LIE he had lived during his time with Jesus and the other eleven.

But what is particularly and tragically moving in all of this is that this would be the LAST NIGHT OF JUDAS’ LIFE. The following morning, as Jesus was about to be hanged by his limbs via nails on the man-made tree of the Cross to the northwestern part of Jerusalem, Judas would hang himself out of despair on a tree to the south in a field that became known as Hakeldama, or Field of Blood. He would hang himself with such force that an eviscerating disembowelment would result, as Peter tells us in the Acts of the Apostles. Judas, who betrayed the Lord ultimately to death for a handful of silver coins, would die even before the Lord. This great tragedy prompts us to ask: What had happened to this man? How could things have gone so wrong? How could, after three years with Jesus, he have given up all hope?

In speaking about his betrayer in the upper room before Judas had departed into the night, Jesus said “Alas for that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! Better for him if he had never been born!” Jesus said this NOT because he would seek divine vengeance upon him for his betrayal, since Jesus came to die even for Judas and called him “friend” until the end. He said it NOT because Judas’ very name would become ignominiously attached to betrayal for the rest of human history. He said it because Judas went to his death, as far as we can discern, NEVER HAVING KNOWN AND LOVED THE LORD, who would have forgiven him even this betrayal of betrayals. Jesus went freely to the Cross. He himself said, “I lay down my life in order to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have the power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again. I have received this command from my Father” (John 10:17-18). Jesus freely went to his “fate,” and if Judas hadn’t been involved in it, someone else would have. After all, the Scribes, Pharisees and Herodians had been plotting to kill Jesus for over a year by this stage. Judas never realized that the point of life is to come to know and love Jesus, to trust in his mercy, to participate in his salvation, even if one doesn’t explicitly know Christ, as Judas did for at least three years. Judas never realized this, and hence his life ultimately was tragically a waste — and it was better that he had never been born.

Unlike Peter, who — after his apostasy when he swore that he never knew the Lord after having sworn hours earlier that he would never abandon him — wept when he realized he had sinned against the Lord and who turned to the Lord for mercy; unlike the Good Thief on the Cross, who hoping in God’s love and mercy, turned to the Lord and asked him to remember Him when he came into his kingdom hours before his death; Judas never understood the depths of God’s love and mercy. He never understood the meaning of the parable of the prodigal Son. He never understood the meaning of Jesus’ teaching on the lost sheep and heaven’s rejoicing more for one repentant sinner than for all those who never sinned and needed repentance. He never understood the meaning of Jesus’ statement to Peter of the infinite forgiveness of God, seventy times seven times. No, he never understood that Jesus’ whole mission was to come to SAVE sinners, to save men just like Judas, to try to save Judas himself. After Judas had recognized how wrong his action was, after he saw that Jesus was condemned to death, he returned to the high chief priests and elders and said, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood,” throwing the silver pieces on the floor. Yes he had sinned! But rather than have that sin lead him to the One who was about to die to save him from that sin if only he would turn back to him, Judas, despairing of that forgiveness, went to field and took his own life. What a tragedy indeed!

Where is the GOOD NEWS in all of this? Only God knows if there were any good news for Judas between the tightening of the noose and his sad death seconds later. For us, however, there IS good news in the fact that Judas’ example illustrates just how essential hope and trust in the Lord’s mercy are for our Christian lives. No matter what we’ve done in the past, no matter what we might do in the future, no matter how bad we think our lot is, no matter how unforgivable we think we might be, we can always turn to and trust in the Lord’s mercy. St. Peter did, even though he had considered a little warmth more valuable than his allegiance to Christ. St. Paul did, even though he used to KILL CHRISTIANS FOR A LIVING, terrorizing the Christians in the 30s just like Nero would in the 60s and Roman emperors after that. And so should we. St. Paul himself wrote, “If God is for us, who can be against us? … He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom 8:30-39). NOTHING CAN KEEP US FROM GOD’S MERCIFUL LOVE — not even our sins against the Lord, unless we let them!

And so as we celebrate this last Mass of Lent during this Great Jubilee Year of our Redemption, let us turn to our Triune God in gratitude. God loved us so much that he considered a small price to pray that the Eternal suffer and die on the Cross rather than to live forever without us. He will give us all things besides, most especially the forgiveness of our sins. With the whole Church we can exult, as we will at the Easter Vigil, “O Happy Fault of Adam, that brought us such a great redeemer!” As we prepare to enter the Triduum of the suffering, death and resurrection of the Lord, let us shout, “O Happy Fault of Mine — O felix culpa mea — that brought ME such a great redeemer!” as we now ascend Calvary to participate in that very same sacrifice of the Lord that saved us from all our sins. God bless you!