In today’s Gospel, we read about Judas’ deal with the chief priests. 30 pieces of silver. The value of a slave. The price paid for a modest convenience and political expediency.
The striking thing about what Judas did is that he did not get much money for his trouble. Sacred Scripture does not tell exactly why Judas sold out Jesus. Taking a purely deterministic providential answer, as some are wont to do, is unhelpful. If we simply say “because God wanted him to”, that would of course be as true for this as anything else. We would then either be constrained to cease all inquiry or subsume such inquiry into the inescapable maze of the arbitrary. Since God is not in competition with creatures, and God wills that effects come about through secondary causes, among which rational agents with genuine choice are numbered, we might still reasonably ask the question.
Perhaps Judas became disillusioned with Jesus’ Messiahship. It was time for a military conquerer and Judas was tired of waiting. There is some speculation that Judas was a zealot. Others hypothesize that Judas tried to broker a peace deal of sorts. But this theory seems very weak in light of the evidence. Judas had full knowledge of the priests’ intentions. After the cleansing of the Temple, there could not be any reasonable doubt they wanted Jesus dead. Merely banishing Him or putting Him in prison would not pacify them. It could be that Judas simply thought that he would get more for the betrayal, overestimating the worth of his services, and pressed forward with his plan anyway. Maybe Judas wanted to see if Jesus was really who He claimed to be, and therefore sought to orchestrate an extreme test. Judas might have grown to become jealous of Jesus, seeking to usurp the Lord from His place of leadership.
Now, what fruit does the above conjecture bear? Only this. That all reasons for betraying Jesus are rooted in the indulgence of pride. Judas wanted things his way instead of God’s way. However God was acting in the world, but Judas saw differently. What we see in Judas is eerily reminiscent of what the great church tradition teaches about Satan.
Satan was among the angels and near to God. He rebelled against God, seeking not only to be like the Most High, but to take His place. This great disorder in the creature led to a domino effect of cosmic disorder. What Jesus comes to do is restore order. To begin directing all things finally and fully back to God as their proper end. The bent stick is getting turned back in the opposite direction so that it can become straight again. The proud, like Satan and Judas, fight against this with all their might. In a certain sense, they do believe they can succeed. In another, deeper sense, their efforts will ultimately come to nothing. As an embodied soul and rational creature, Judas realizes this only too late.
We should see a reflection of our own pride and sinfulness when we read about the betrayal of Jesus. We should recognize that only by God’s grace are we able to walk in humility and circumspection. The grace of each day is sufficient for itself and our ultimate happiness as God bends us into proper shape.