The Why of Judas’ Betrayal, Wednesday of Holy Week, April 16, 2014

Fr. Roger J. Landry
St. Bernadette Parish, Fall River, MA
Wednesday of Holy Week
April 16, 2014
Is 50:4-9, Ps 69, Mt 26:14-25

To listen to an audio recording of today’s homily, please click below: 


The following points were attempted in the homily: 

  • Yesterday we pondered Judas’ betrayal with the help of St. John’s account of the beginning of the Last Supper and contrasted it with St. Peter’s. Today we look at the betrayal again from the perspective of St. Matthew. St. Matthew records that Jesus said about Judas, “Woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed. It would be better for that man if he had never been born.” The tragedy of the life of Judas, the reason why it was better for him never to have been born, is not simply because the names Judas and Iscariot have become synonymous with the most notorious traitor in the history of the world. It’s because he had never come to grasp the point of human life. Even though he had been up close with the Lord Jesus for three years, he had never really come to know him and his merciful love. It’s because at the end of his life when he looked at what he had done, he saw no way past the shame and ended his life rather coming to receive forgiveness from the one who was prepared to die to take away his sins. It is similarly better for anyone who doesn’t come to know the love and mercy of the Lord never to be born because then their sins — and the unexpiated guilt of their sins — will kill them in this life and forever.
  • Why did Judas betray Jesus? Most think it was for the money, that he was a greedy thief and would sell out Jesus for what he could get. “What are you willing to give me if I hand him over to you?” They gave him 30 shekels of silver, the price of a slave, or about 90 days wages. Jesus had said that we cannot serve both God and money because we will love one and hate the other. Some think that Judas’ avariciousness led him to love money and consequently to hate Jesus. But I don’t think that’s the reason because later he threw the money back in the temple area when he recognized he had betrayed an innocent man. Another reason that is proposed is because Judas himself thought he had been betrayed by Jesus. It’s possible that he had thought that hooking himself to Jesus’ train would be the path to satisfy his human ambitions, that he would become the money-man of the new Messianic administration; when he began to grasp that that was not in the cards, that his hopes in Jesus would not be fulfilled, aggrieved he turned on him. Another explanation is that he might have been seeking with impatience for Jesus to inaugurate his kingdom. Much like Mary at the wedding feast of Cana went to Jesus and precipitated his “hour” by asking him to do a miracle for the young couple, so some think Judas may have been provoking Jesus to reveal himself and his kingdom fully when he would be put into the hands of those whom Judas thought Jesus had come into the world to overthrow. A fourth interpretation is less psychological than spiritual: he had allowed Satan to enter into his heart for some reason and that Satan tempted him to turn on Jesus and then turn on himself.
  • Whatever the explanation, it is totally clear that Judas never believed that in betraying Jesus he was handing him over to a sentence of torture and death. He was shocked later when the chief priests and the Sanhedrin declared that Jesus must die and brought him before Pontius Pilate. He never thought that he was going to killing Jesus by betraying him. If he knew that that was what was going to happen to Jesus, it’s pretty clear by his subsequent actions that he never would have betrayed him. And that’s a really important lesson for us all. We would never gossip if we knew that our gossip would kill Jesus or kill someone else. We’d never steal if we knew that our theft would murder Jesus or murder someone else. We’d never neglect a needy person if we knew that as a direct result Jesus would die or that that Lazarus at our gates would die through our omission. But the spiritual reality is that our sins are really what led to Jesus’ death. He died to take away our betrayals, our infidelities, our iniquities. It’s somewhat tempting 2,000 years later to throw stones at Judas, but we have to recognize that Jesus was hammered to the Cross not just to forgive Judas’ breaches of faith but our own. Why do we betray the Lord Jesus? Why do we prefer the Barabbas of our sins to Christ? Like Judas, we don’t want Jesus to die, but unlike Judas, we now know in hindsight what our sins will do and have done. Blessed John Paul II would speak often of the mysterium iniquitatis, the mystery of our sinfulness, that our sins basically make little sense when we really think them out. That’s one of the reasons why Jesus cried out to the Father in his first words from the Cross, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” We really don’t think our sinful choices through, because if we knew that our sins would crucify Jesus we would never choose them.
  • On this last day of Lent — tomorrow we enter into a new liturgical season, the shortest of the year, the Blessed Triduum — it’s key for us to grasp what the Lord is calling us to do as we turn away from sin and are faithful to the Gospel. Today in the first reading, the third of four Suffering Servant Songs, we hear Isaiah’s reflections about what he and Jesus after him wants to do in us: “The Lord God has given me  a well-trained tongue, that I might know how to speak to the weary a word that will rouse them.” With eloquence, Jesus wants to arouse us from our spiritual somnolence. What’s the “word” that will actually do that? First, it’s a word that comes from the Father. “Morning after morning he opens my ear that I may hear,” Isaiah says. Jesus would say that he speaks only what he hears from the Father. But second, it’s a word he speaks with his own body language: “I gave my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who plucked my beard; my face I did not shield from buffets and spitting,” all things we will be pondering over the next couple of days. The word of what our sins have done to Jesus should arouse us to contrition, to repentance, to  amendment. And that word of Jesus we should “echo” with our own life. Isaiah says, “I have not rebelled, have not turned back. … The Lord God is my help, therefore I am not disgraced; I have set my face like flint, knowing that I shall not be put to shame.” He was resolute, setting his face toward Jerusalem like flint, the very hard rock always placed at the tips of spears in the ancient world. Jesus wants us to have that same firm resolve to set our faces toward him with trust and not to rebel or to turn back. He preaches this eloquent “word” to arouse the “weary,” because he knows that more than anything else our sins wear us down. We’re also worn down by trying to struggle against evil on our own without God. He comes to join us in that fight.
  • And where he does that most of all is here at Mass. Today in the Gospel there’s an element we shouldn’t miss about our preparing ourselves for Mass so that Jesus may strengthen us through our holy Communion with him to be as firm as flint in the faith. When the disciples asked Jesus where he wanted them to prepare to eat the Passover, he sent them into the city to a “certain man” to tell him, “My appointed time draws near,” and that that man would take care of the rest. Jesus had already clued this man in to what his appointed time meant and Jesus had already made all of the other arrangements. Similarly we’re called to prepare ourselves for Mass, to hunger as the “appointed time draws near” and to arrange our hearts and souls so that Jesus may celebrate the Passover within us, helping us to pass with him from death into life.
  • And I’d like to finish with a small reference to someone who experienced this Passover in life, whom the Lord came to bring home 135 years ago today, our patroness, St. Bernadette. We don’t celebrate her feast today because Wednesday of Holy Week trumps the memorial of any saint, including a patron saint, but we can invoke her in a special today and learn from her how to put into practice the “word” that the Lord himself gives us today with his “well-trained tongue.” St. Bernadette always prepared herself for the Passover of Holy Communion with great expectation. Even at her first Holy Communion at the age of 14, she equated it with something as powerful as the apparitions of our Lady, something for which she’s famous more than a century later. She prepared in all her prayer but I like to think she got ready especially through the prayer she learned from our Lady and always sought to teach others: how to make the Sign of the Cross with real faith, slowly and deliberately, uniting herself to Jesus on the Cross and simultaneously taking up her own Cross. So many people rush through making the Sign of the Cross because they don’t really think about what they’re doing, and when that happens in the supreme sign of our faith, then it can so much more easily happen in the way we prepare for Mass, pray the Mass, and live the Mass in life. Her sanctity began in a sense by learning from Mary how to make the sign of the Cross prayerfully and that led to her doing everything with prayerful deliberation. Let’s ask her prayers today so that together with Jesus’ prayer not only that the Father will forgive us for not truly knowing what we were doing but also that the Father will give us the grace to know what we’re doing and do all things for his glory as Jesus did, as Bernadette did, and as God wants to help us to do as well.

The readings for today’s Mass were: 

Reading 1
IS 50:4-9A

The Lord GOD has given me
a well-trained tongue,
That I might know how to speak to the weary
a word that will rouse them.
Morning after morning
he opens my ear that I may hear;
And I have not rebelled,
have not turned back.
I gave my back to those who beat me,
my cheeks to those who plucked my beard;
My face I did not shield
from buffets and spitting.The Lord GOD is my help,
therefore I am not disgraced;
I have set my face like flint,
knowing that I shall not be put to shame.
He is near who upholds my right;
if anyone wishes to oppose me,
let us appear together.
Who disputes my right?
Let him confront me.
See, the Lord GOD is my help;
who will prove me wrong?

Responsorial Psalm
PS 69:8-10, 21-22, 31 AND 33-34

R. (14c) Lord, in your great love, answer me.
For your sake I bear insult,
and shame covers my face.
I have become an outcast to my brothers,
a stranger to my mother’s sons,
because zeal for your house consumes me,
and the insults of those who blaspheme you fall upon me.
R. Lord, in your great love, answer me.
Insult has broken my heart, and I am weak,
I looked for sympathy, but there was none;
for consolers, not one could I find.
Rather they put gall in my food,
and in my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink.
R. Lord, in your great love, answer me.
I will praise the name of God in song,
and I will glorify him with thanksgiving:
“See, you lowly ones, and be glad;
you who seek God, may your hearts revive!
For the LORD hears the poor,
and his own who are in bonds he spurns not.”
R. Lord, in your great love, answer me.

MT 26:14-25

One of the Twelve, who was called Judas Iscariot,
went to the chief priests and said,
“What are you willing to give me
if I hand him over to you?”
They paid him thirty pieces of silver,
and from that time on he looked for an opportunity to hand him over.On the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread,
the disciples approached Jesus and said,
“Where do you want us to prepare
for you to eat the Passover?”
He said,
“Go into the city to a certain man and tell him,
‘The teacher says, “My appointed time draws near;
in your house I shall celebrate the Passover with my disciples.”‘“
The disciples then did as Jesus had ordered,
and prepared the Passover.When it was evening,
he reclined at table with the Twelve.
And while they were eating, he said,
“Amen, I say to you, one of you will betray me.”
Deeply distressed at this,
they began to say to him one after another,
“Surely it is not I, Lord?”
He said in reply,
“He who has dipped his hand into the dish with me
is the one who will betray me.
The Son of Man indeed goes, as it is written of him,
but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed.
It would be better for that man if he had never been born.”
Then Judas, his betrayer, said in reply,
“Surely it is not I, Rabbi?”
He answered, “You have said so.”