Mark 14:10-11

Then Judas Iscariot, who was one of the twelve, went to the chief priests in order to betray him to them. When they heard it, they were greatly pleased, and promised to give him money. So he began to look for an opportunity to betray him. Mark 14:10-11

Welcome to one of the mysteries around the death of Jesus. Why did Judas do it?

A common explanation is that Judas had become disillusioned with Jesus. His tipping point was seeing that woman wasting her expensive ointment in anointing Jesus’ head. As we read yesterday, “But some were there who said to one another in anger, ‘Why was the ointment wasted in this way? For this ointment could have been sold for more than three hundred denarii, and the money given to the poor.’ And they scolded her.”

This argument is bolstered by the little tidbit we get in John 12:6, “He said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it.” But before we land on that answer, we need to be aware that John’s gospel was written decades after Mark. John tells the Jesus story very differently; John specifically names Mary (of Mary and Martha fame) as the woman who anointed Jesus’ head.

Maybe John’s version is the result of people, from the very beginning, asking our same question. Why did Judas do it?

Matthew’s gospel, again, written after Mark, adds another tidbit to the “he did it for the money” argument. Matthew 26 tells us that, as we all remember, Judas did it for 30 pieces of silver. So maybe that is it then. Just follow the money.

But there is another possibility.

Maybe the question ought not be “Why did Judas do it?” but, instead, “Why does this story need a Judas in it?”

Mark doesn’t tell us anything about Judas’ motives. But Mark DOES tell us – we’ll get to those verses later this week – that Jesus knew it was coming. Mark wants us to know that Jesus knew that his betrayal to the Romans was an “inside job” just as much as it was a conspiracy led by the religious authorities. At the end, everyone yells “Crucify him.”

From the very beginning, the Judas story sent a message to all who would follow Jesus that the possibility of THEIR betrayal would be as devastating as anything that religious or political authorities might throw at them. Traitors are even worse than enemies.

The function of the role played by Judas is to hold all of us who seek to follow Jesus in our lives accountable to not selling Jesus out for our own selfish motives.

But I don’t really think it was about the money. Money, in and of itself, is nothing but a means of exchange. It isn’t money itself, it is what money signifies, what money buys, how money functions as an identifier of social standing and social worth, THAT is where money moves from being a means of exchange to exchanging one God for lesser, idolatrous, gods.

I think it runs even deeper than money (even though we are so easily wowed and cowed by people who have a lot of it.) I think the simplest explanation is that the religious authorities needed a scapegoat, a fall guy, someone who could take the heat off of them even as they hatched their self-serving, insidious, plan to rid the world of Jesus.

Does that really happen? Powerful people using less powerful people to blame, to deflect responsibility, to “get the job done” even as they gain “plausible deniability”? Of course it does. The question is, when it happens, would we be able to notice it?

Let those with eyes, see.

Let us pray: Dear Lord, Judas has long been for us a warning of how easily we can be misled into doing the wrong thing, even though we are convinced that we are right. Judas reminds us of the danger of turning money into an idol. And Judas convicts us in that we know how easily we can be swayed. Lead us not into temptation. Deliver us from evil. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

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