In today’s Gospel reading we have the account of the Last Supper, and of Jesus foretelling his betrayal by Judas Iscariot. From Matthew 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?”
“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.”
In the Gospel of John, Jesus actually feeds Judas, as a mother might feed her child: “’It is the one to whom I will give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish.’ Then, dipping the piece of bread, he gave it to Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot.” (John 13:26) In both accounts, Judas then leaves the circle of apostles, and helps put in motion the horrible events leading to Golgotha.
When we read this passage, we have a sense of revulsion, of horror, at what Judas is doing. And, we should. But, what perspective do we take in the story? Perhaps we try to take the seat of Christ, and feel this betrayal personally. But, then, we have to ask ourselves: Would we hand feed our betrayer? That’s a pretty tall order. More likely, we may take the place of one of the other 11 apostles, reclining at the table, aghast at the thought of betraying Jesus. And, here, we must acknowledge that each of those 11 would betray Jesus in one fashion or another before sunrise.
The difference, of course, is Judas came to the table knowing he already had betrayed Jesus. And he left the table with the intent to betray him again. So, how could any of us claim the perspective of Judas in this passage? With honesty and humility, I think the vast majority of us — including me — must acknowledge we’ve played this part many times.
Judas’ betrayal of Jesus comes in three parts. He arranged to betray Jesus and took payment for this betrayal. He handed Jesus over to be arrested. And, by far the most grievous sin, he failed to acknowledge God’s power to forgive him — the type of forgiveness Peter sought and received for his own betrayal, at another meal with Jesus, beside the Sea of Galilee in John 21. In each of these instances, Judas betrays Jesus for the ways of this world. For money. For power. For status. And, finally, he betrays Jesus by believing his own sins are more powerful than God’s grace and mercy.
Again, how do we play this role? If we have ever chosen the ways of this world over the The Way of Christ, and come to the altar to receive the Eucharist without true contrition and an honest commitment to amend our ways, then we have brought Judas, in ourselves, to the table. Denying the presence of Christ in the poor, the marginalized, the oppressed and the refugee. Choosing the path of greed, hatred, ego, and our false gods over Christ. Taking up allegiance with nationalism over and above the Kingdom of Heaven. When we bring these things to the altar, we bring Judas with us. And, if we leave the Eucharist without sincere intent to amend our ways, we walk out, as Judas did, with the intent to continue betraying our Lord and King.
The incredible news in all this is Christ knows how we have betrayed him to this world. He knows how we will walk away from His table, in so many ways, to betray again. And yet, He keeps setting the table for us. He presents his body and blood before us, over and over. Just as he fed Judas, he feeds us again and again, calling us to take strength, and to continue to fight for His Kingdom — for our Kingdom, if we will only accept it.
All of us play the part of Judas, from time to time. What is important is that we recognize these instances, take an honest inventory of ourselves before approaching the table, and like Peter, fall with penitent hearts before Christ’s Presence, and accept the forgiveness that has already been granted.