Outside the Light

The gospel readings in Holy week always speak about Judas and his betrayal of Jesus. The Gospel of Mark, for example, gives no motivation for Judas’s sudden betrayal. Matthew, writing a decade or so later than Mark, attempts to clarify things in his account by introducing the motive of greed: “What are you willing to give me if I hand him over to you?” asks Judas to the Jewish high priests. Luke simply writes: “Then Satan entered into Judas, the one surnamed Iscariot, who was counted among the Twelve, and he went to the chief priests and temple guards to discuss a plan for handing him over to them.” The Gospel of John parallels the avarice theme depicting Judas as a greedy keeper of the common purse. “He said this not because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief and held the money bag and used to steal the contributions.”

Overall, though, none of the four Gospels provides a clear or convincing reason for why one of the inner circle of disciples would betray the teacher he esteemed so highly. Greed, for example, is not too compelling as an explanation. After all, why would someone who had traveled with the penniless rabbi for three years suddenly be consumed with greed? Maybe he saw the end coming and simply wanted to make the best of an increasingly hopeless situation.

One Scripture scholar, the late William Barclay, professor of divinity at Glasgow University, and author of the widely used Daily Study Bible series, suggested that the most compelling explanation is that in handing Jesus over to the Romans, Judas was trying to force Jesus’s hand, to get him to act in a decisive way. Perhaps, he suggests, Judas expected the arrest would prompt Jesus to reveal himself as the long-awaited Messiah by overthrowing the Roman occupiers. When his plan goes terribly wrong. Realizing what he has done, overcome with guilt, Judas takes his own life.

It is the pitfall of being a “spy.” In the shadows you think you see it all, but it is only in the light that the truth can be known. Outside the light one forms their own plans and agendas.

None of us think of ourselves as Judas, willing to betray Jesus. I doubt he did either. But the longer one is outside the Light of Christ…who knows?

The Apostle Peter has his shares of blunders and will deny knowing Jesus. But he is fundamentally in the Light where all good things are possible. He always returns to Jesus’ plan.

It is good to take time to discern where one stands in life and by whose plan one operates.

Image credit: Pact of Judas, Duccio di Buoninsegna, ca. 1310, Museo dell’Opera metropolitana del Duomo, Public Domain

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