14 Then one of the Twelve, who was called Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests 15 and said, “What will you give me if I turn Jesus over to you?” They paid him thirty pieces of silver. 16 From that time on he was looking for an opportunity to turn him in.
17 On the first day of the Festival of Unleavened Bread, the disciples came to Jesus and said, “Where do you want us to prepare for you to eat the Passover meal?”
18 He replied, “Go into the city, to a certain man, and say, ‘The teacher says, “My time is near. I’m going to celebrate the Passover with my disciples at your house.”’” 19 The disciples did just as Jesus instructed them. They prepared the Passover.
20 That evening he took his place at the table with the twelve disciples. 21 As they were eating he said, “I assure you that one of you will betray me.”
22 Deeply saddened, each one said to him, “I’m not the one, am I, Lord?”
23 He replied, “The one who will betray me is the one who dips his hand with me into this bowl. 24 The Human One goes to his death just as it is written about him. But how terrible it is for that person who betrays the Human One! It would have been better for him if he had never been born.”
It was inevitable, I suppose. Someone had to give Jesus up. Someone had to be the one to crack.
All the portrayals of Jesus’ life in film or TV have to deal with a major challenge in storytelling: what was Judas’ motivation for betraying Jesus? The gospels make it all about money. But on-screen, the theme is usually bigger. Money just isn’t all that interesting as a motivation for a character (though it’s often true to life). Sometimes, the theory goes like this: Judas really was a true believer. He was convinced that if Jesus were pushed to the limit, he’d finally have to reveal himself as the Messiah. Who knows?
There’s a tension in this passage that should give us pause. It’s the tension between the idea that Jesus is going to the cross according to plan – and yet that the one who put him there is going to be held accountable for it. This is some deep theological water.
To what degree is God in control? To what degree are we? Methodists have always come down on the side of free will; that it’s the only way to make sense of life. And yet, we’ve got passages like this. Is Judas just playing a role that needed playing? Or is he to blame? Which raises questions for us: in what ways are we responsible for our own failures? In what ways are our failures part of a bigger story that’s still being written?
By Joe Monahan
For Pondering & Prayer
Have you ever failed your way to something important? Did you have any sense at the time that was what was happening? What would you tell someone else who’s wrestling with having failed in some way?
Prayer: God, we know that each of us are both wonderfully made and deeply flawed. Help us to turn to you in moments of doubt and weakness to seek your guidance and reassurance. Help us to follow the path that you would have us walk. And when we fail or go astray, lead us back to you. In Jesus’ name, amen.