Why Did Judas Betray Jesus?, Wednesday of Holy Week, March 23, 2016

Fr. Roger J. Landry
Sacred Heart Convent of the Sisters of Life, Manhattan
Wednesday of Holy Week
March 23, 2016
Is 50:4-9, Ps 69, Mt 26:14-25


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


The following points were attempted in today’s homily, please click below. 

  • Yesterday with the help of St. John’s account of the beginning of the Last Supper, we were able to look at Judas’ betrayal and contrast it with St. Peter’s. Today we look at the betrayal again from the perspective of St. Matthew. St. Matthew records something very important that Jesus said about Judas during this supper: “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.” That brings us face-to-face not only with the tragedy of the life of Judas but also the point of your life and mine.
  • The lamentable misfortune 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. He had totally missed the point of Jesus’ parables of the lost sheep, lost coin and lost son. He hadn’t grasped that when he called Peter and the others to forgive 70 times 7 times, God himself would do the same. He hadn’t let penetrate the lessons Jesus had taught in forgiving the sinful woman in Simon the Pharisee’s House, the Paralytic, the Woman Caught in Adultery or Zacchaeus. He hadn’t grasped why Jesus had called Simon bar Jonah, whose first words to Jesus were, “Depart from me because I am a sinful man,” or Matthew, who was a despicable tax collector. Despite three years with Jesus, he still hadn’t gotten the most important thing about Jesus and his Mission: that he was mercy incarnate and had come desiring mercy not sacrifice. The real tragedy of the life of Judas is that at the end of his life when he looked at what he had done, he saw no way past the shame. Consequently, he ended his life rather came to receive forgiveness from the one who was preparing 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, frankly, their sins — and the unexpiated guilt of their sins — will kill them in this life and forever, even though Jesus has the antidote to the poison of sin that kills us. This is the one of the most essential messages of this extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy, to learn from Judas’ fatal mistake and entrust ourselves to the mercy of the Lord of life.
  • 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?,” he asked. 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’ avarice 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 impatiently 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 placed in 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 kill 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. Jesus says in today’s Gospel, “Amen, I say to you, one of you will betray me.” It would be more appropriate for him to say to everyone of us except his immaculate Mother, “Amen, I say to you, every one of you will betray me.” We should be humble enough to say, not ““Surely it is not I, Lord?,” but rather “Surely it is I, Lord. I’m sorry! Have mercy on me!” And as we say it we should realize retrospectively what Judas never grasped prospectively, that our sins — whether venial or mortal with respect to the consequence of God’s presence within our soul — are all fatal when it comes to Jesus because they all led to his death.
  • Grasping this will strengthen us in the fight against sin that is supposed to continue well beyond the end of Lent. We would never gossip if we knew that our gossip would kill Jesus or kill someone else. We’d never lie if we thought our lie would cause Jesus’ crucifixion or someone else’s. 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 today the readings help us to grasp 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. Saint 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 few of us 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. Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen used to say that Judas’ betrayal began with Judas’ rejection of Jesus in the Eucharist. He wrote in his spiritual autobiography, A Treasure in Clay: “The beginning of the fall of Judas and the end of Judas both revolved around the Eucharist. The first mention that Our Lord knew who it was who would betray him is at the end of the sixth chapter of John, which is the announcement of the Eucharist. The fall of Judas came the night Our Lord gave the Eucharist, the night of the Last Supper. The Eucharist is so essential to our oneness with Christ that as soon as Our Lord announced It in the Gospel, It began to be the test of the fidelity of His followers. First, He lost the masses, for it was too hard a saying and they no longer followed Him. Secondly, He lost some of His disciples: ‘They walked with Him no more.’ Third, it split His apostolic band, for Judas is here announced as the betrayer.”
  • What began Judas’ downfall is meant to begin our rise. The words Jesus preaches to the weary are “This is my Body, which will be given up for you,” “This is the chalice of my blood,” and “Do this in memory of me!” This is what gives us the strength to set our faces like flint toward Calvary and not turn back.
  • There’s an element we shouldn’t miss in today’s Gospel 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. The Lord in his great love has indeed answered us. He has given us himself to strengthen us not to betray him, not to hand him over to those who want to abuse him, but to give him to the Father and ourselves with him and in that act give ourselves over to others for the salvation of the world.

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.”