What to do when you destroy everything

When Judas, his betrayer, saw that Jesus was condemned, he repented and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders. He said, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.” But they said, “What is that to us? See to it yourself.” Throwing down the pieces of silver in the temple, he departed; and he went and hanged himself. But the chief priests, taking the pieces of silver, said, “It is not lawful to put them into the treasury, since they are blood money.” After conferring together, they used them to buy the potter’s field as a place to bury foreigners. For this reason that field has been called the Field of Blood to this day. Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah, “And they took the thirty pieces of silver, the price of the one on whom a price had been set, on whom some of the people of Israel had set a price, and they gave them for the potter’s field, as the Lord commanded me.”

Matthew 27: 1-11


Sometimes remorse is lonely.

It seems like it was for Judas in this passage from the readings today. Here in the midst of everyone’s despair—Peter denying Jesus, the Marys, sitting vigil outside the tomb—is some despair we don’t tend to think much about. Judas, fully grasping what he has done, tries to do something, anything, that will calm the horrible turmoil in his heart, that sick surreal feeling that he’s just contributed to destroying his world, and there’s nothing he can do to get it back.

The money he was given for handing Jesus over doesn’t feel particularly valuable anymore. He wants to take back what he’s done, and he can’t, so he tries to give back the money. And then what happens is puzzling and disturbing. The chief priests and elders—which is to say, the political and religious establishment—who paid Judas to hand Jesus over in the first place, won’t have anything to do with him. Judas calls Jesus innocent, and confesses his sin to his religious leaders, and they say, “Not our problem.”

But then in an act of, to my mind, total hypocrisy, they suddenly have qualms about using the money for anything good—because it’s “blood money.” They paid the money in order to get Jesus arrested, which was, apparently, fine? But now that they have the money back, suddenly it’s tainted. But they did the tainting.

It’s like a guy who slips a roofie in a girl’s drink, deflowers and impregnates her, and later, when her parents try to get him to marry her, he says, “Well, I can’t marry her. She’s not a virgin.”

Of course, the girl’s parents were crazy to think that marriage was a good resolution to the problem, and Judas should probably have known better than to have gone back to the priests and spoken the truth out loud, but despair makes people act in strange ways.

Like I said, we tend to ignore Judas in the story, or else just notice him enough to condemn him and be glad that he, the villain, is out of the picture. “Serves him right,” we think, “That’s what you get for betraying the Son of God.”

But I have to say, I feel for Judas. I’ve had that sick feeling of knowing I’ve just done something I can’t take back, and destroyed something I loved in the process. I think we all have. You feel isolated. You are filled with despair. The horror is so bad that you can only remember having the feeling in nightmares, but you know you are awake.

In Judas’ case, nobody he might have considered a friend wants anything to do with him. The men he’s been living with for three years are filled with contempt for him. The people who somehow persuaded him to hand Jesus over aren’t really any less contemptuous. So he commits suicide.

And some Christians today feel justified in condemning him for that as well.

But I don’t. I’m too aware that it could have been me hanging from the tree.

I’m not above thinking I know better than Jesus what’s best for me. I’m happy to occasionally act out.

Usually, it starts because I just want a little rebellion. I know I shouldn’t gossip, but I’m angry at a friend, so I share a pet theory that puts her in a scandalous light. But rebellion can get out of control pretty fast. Sometimes we start off just wanting a little comeuppance, and we end up with our entire world falling apart.

I wonder what it would have been like for Judas if he hadn’t given in to despair. What would he have felt if he had lived to see the glory of what God brought forth from his betrayal? Imagine the resurrection of Judas’ life when he found out that not even his unforgivable, destructive and selfish acts were enough to foil God. What a relief! What joy! We look at Peter, scared to even admit that he knew Jesus, and see how he was transformed into an authoritative miracle worker. Who could Judas have been if only he’d been able to face what he had done and seen it transformed by God?

Sometimes we fail. Miserably. Unforgivably. And sometimes compassion and grace are hard to find in the shadow of our misdeeds. But in those times, I believe we are called to sit with our darkness. To, like Judas, name it and know the truth of what we have done. Sometimes, it’s all we can do to just keep waking up every day and reface the enormity of what we’ve done. But in time, God can transform even our lives’ darkest selves into brilliant, blinding light. Sometimes we just need to sit in the dark and wait for Easter.

2 thoughts on “What to do when you destroy everything

Add yours

  1. Poor Judas! Your post reminds me that he truly ought to be viewed more sympathetically. What happened to him is sad, and I hate hearing those who say he went to hell because he killed himself. I think it is important and thought provoking to compare Judas to Peter, not only for what Judas could have become, but also with regard to the severity of their offenses and the different ways that they tried to fix their screw ups. Poor Judas! Is he a cautionary tale, or is he just an illustration that there’s really no rhyme or reason in life, because Jesus sought out Peter to restore him, but with Judas, he just couldn’t get to him in time. Poor guy!

    Where I had trouble grasping your reflection was with the analogy. I don’t see how its figures correspond to those in the passage. You’ve got a man, a roofie, a woman and her parents. And there’s religious leaders, Judas, Jesus and money. If the roofie is supposed to correspond to money, then in your analogy wouldn’t you need someone to have given the man the roofie, but then later to have eschewed roofies because they are bad for your health? That would work to illustrate hypocrisy, I suppose. But also, is the man supposed to be the religious leaders (with Judas as the woman, deceived), or Judas (with Jesus as the woman, betrayed)? I find myself distracted and not at all clarified as to the leaders’ issue with the money. Also I’m confused because to my mind it’s not the blood money — whatever that is or signifies — that demonstrates that the leaders are hypocrites. They don’t disagree with Judas’ assessment that he has sinned and shed innocent blood — if he did, surely they did also by hiring him to do so, which they don’t acknowledge, which makes them hypocrites.


  2. You’re right! The roofie and parents are totally extraneous. I wish I could go back and edit. I just meant that the priests are like a guy seducing a girl, then rejecting her for not being a virgin. They, like the guy, created the very situation that they then decide is too distasteful for them. Both seem to do it without any awareness of their own hypocrisy–but maybe we should spare some compassion for at least some of the priests too. It seems like all the bad actors were somewhat shocked and overwhelmed by the end result–another piece we tend not to focus on.


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