The story of Judas’ betrayal of Christ has always raised questions such as: Since God planned everything, did Jesus really need Judas’ betrayal? Since Jesus gave Judas the morsel to eat, after which the devil entered him the second time (John 13: 2, 26-27), was Judas morally culpable for his decision to betray Jesus? Following last week’s post on brinkmanship, today explores if Jesus needed Judas.
To recap, last week’s post argued that Jesus adopted the brinkmanship strategy because if he had confronted the Jewish leaders as a child, they would have quickly arrested him, an action that would have given us a different interpretation of the “appointed time” and, perhaps, altered the trajectory of Jesus’s mission. Why?
As I explained, humanly speaking, Jesus had very little societal leverage before he began his mission at the age of thirty. Although people knew him, many more people started following and supporting him because of the miracles he performed during his ministry. The massive support from the people, though they later endorsed his crucifixion, deterred the Jewish leaders from arresting him.
Matthew’s gospel reports that after the temple cleansing, the Jewish leaders questioned Jesus on whose authority he taught and acted on. After Jesus’ response, the gospel reads: “When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they perceived that he was speaking about them. But when they tried to arrest him, they feared the multitudes, because they held him to be a prophet” (Matt 21: 45-46).
This is where the discussion of Judas’ betrayal comes in. The gospel of Mark reads:
“And he (Jesus) taught, and said to them, “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’? But you have made it a den of robbers.” And the chief priests and the scribes heard it and sought a way to destroy him; for they feared him, because all the multitude was astonished at his teaching” (Mark 11:17-18). In Chapter 14, the gospel reads: “It was now two days before the Passover and the feast of Unleavened Bread. And the chief priests and the scribes were seeking how to arrest him by stealth, and kill him” (Mark 14:1).
To arrest by stealth means to take one into custody secretly. This passage corroborates the above quotations in Matthew’s and Mark’s gospel that the chief priests and Pharisees couldn’t arrest Jesus for fear of the multitude. Hence, in response to Jesus’ ever-growing influence and threat to their finance, they wanted to arrest Jesus secretly and kill him.
This may explain why Judas’ betrayal was necessary. Only the disciples knew the exact itinerary of Jesus and the places he visited. Hence, the Jewish leaders needed one to lead them to places where the crowds were absent. The gospel of John reads:
“When Jesus had spoken these words, he went forth with his disciples across the Kidron valley, where there was a garden, which he and his disciples entered. Now Judas, who betrayed him, also knew the place; for Jesus often met there with his disciples. So Judas, procuring a band of soldiers and some officers from the chief priests and the Pharisees, went there with lanterns and torches and weapons” (John 18: 1-3).
The question about the morality of Judas’ action brings us to the age-long question of free will and determinism. Although God created us for a purpose, he did not take away our free will to choose our actions—choices that could either promote or undermine this purpose. This was necessary; otherwise, the discussion on the culpability for sin would have been meaningless. In other words, if God had programmed me like a machine, then my errors would have been relative to the designer. This would have implied that the discussion on God’s perfect nature (Matt 5:48), the goodness of creation (Gen 1:31), and heaven and hell (Matt 25:31-46) were not necessary. Since we exercise our free will, God’s antecedent purpose in our lives cannot be completed without our cooperation. Therefore, our choices either facilitate the completion of God’s purpose in our lives or alter its direction.
Judas betrayed Jesus for money. However, the gospel of John describes Judas as a thief who stole from the common funds of Jesus and the apostles (John 12:6). Therefore, Judas’ love for money did not begin when he became a disciple. He had the free will to resist betraying Jesus for money, but his love for money had already created the environment for the devil to operate. Hence, the gospels mention that Satan entered him.
I argue that although Judas seemingly played a role by bringing the Jewish leaders to a place where they could easily arrest Jesus, God, in his infinite wisdom, knowledge and power, would have provided another opportunity for Jesus’ arrest if Judas had not made himself a willing tool.
The story of Judas is always instructive to us priests and religious. In him, we have the epitome of one without fear of the sacred and a saboteur. Judas followed Christ, heard Christ’s teachings, and experienced his miracles. Yet, he still stole from funds gathered for their group.
Do we make ourselves a willing tool for the devil to use to fight the Church? Do we join the crowd to fight someone close to us? As we come up with different ideas about how we feel is the best way those occupying ecclesiastical office should act, let us ensure that our ideas emerge in the context of the safeguarding and administration of the sacraments, maintaining of law and order in the Church, promoting the faith, and ultimately, the salvation of souls. In simple terms, what Christ would have done in that situation.
May God continue to help us.🙏🏾