Today is Spy Wednesday, the day on which the Church gives us the gospel reading that describes the conspiracy between Judas and the chief priests to have the Lord Jesus arrested and condemned to death. “What are you willing to give me if I hand him over to you?” Judas said to the chief priests. The gospel tells us that they paid him thirty pieces of silver, “and from that time on he looked for an opportunity to hand him over.” (Matt 26:14-16)
When did Judas, whom Our Lord called to follow Him as one of the Twelve Apostles, turn against Jesus? Archbishop Fulton Sheen, in his great book The Life of Christ, says that the seeds of Judas’ act of betrayal were planted with the Bread of Life discourse, towards the beginning of Christ’s public ministry. The Bread of Life discourse took place the day after Our Lord’s multiplication of the loaves and fishes, when He miraculously fed an enormous crowd of five thousand. Knowing that the people wanted, as a result of the miracle, to carry Him away and make Him king, Our Lord withdrew and hid from them. When they came looking for Him the following day, He told them that He had a greater food for them that would satisfy forever their deepest hunger. “I am the bread of life,” He said (John 6:48), and “unless you eat my flesh and drink my blood you have no life within you.” (John 6:53) Many who had sought Him out became disillusioned, and even disgusted by the strange words of Christ, and decided not to follow Him anymore. When Jesus asked the Twelve if they would leave Him too, Simon Peter said: “To whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” So the Twelve remained with Him. But Our Lord, in response to Peter said: “Did I not choose you, the Twelve, and one of you is a devil?” The scripture continues, explaining: “He spoke of Judas the son of Simon Iscariot, for he, one of the Twelve, was to betray Him.”
Although Our Lord knew at that moment that Judas’ heart had turned against Him, He did not send Judas away. He kept Judas close. And as Judas hid his own disdain for the Lord, the Lord also kept the sin of Judas hidden, treating him with gentleness, patience, and love. For when the Lord announced at the Last Supper that one of the Twelve would betray Him, they “looked at one another, uncertain of whom He spoke.” (John 13:22) Even when Judas leaves the Last Supper early, the others think it’s in order to perform some work of charity, since Judas kept the community purse. (John 13:28-9) Archbishop Sheen remarks that Our Lord’s protection of Judas was contrary to the world’s affinity for the spread of scandal, and was a suffering that Christ bore for the sake of his betrayer whom He never ceased to love.
How bitterly ironic that Judas would commit his final act of treachery the same night on which the Lord Jesus instituted the sacred priesthood and the sacrament of the Eucharist, the Bread of Life by which He gives us His flesh and blood as food and drink. Our Lord’s gestures to Judas of friendship and love were met with the scorn and hatred that Judas had harbored and nurtured over time, so that when Christ Jesus made it plain that He knew exactly what Judas was about to do, His betrayer feigned innocence to the human face of God while in his heart he was fixed in his determination to do the evil deed.
When we reflect on Judas’ betrayal of Our Lord, it should move us to examine our own consciences and how we might harbor hardness of heart towards God and our neighbor. We are often mysteries to ourselves, and are easily drawn into habits of action and thought and disposition in which our wills are set against that of the Lord – and we are barely aware of it. And there might be a moment, please God, when the sickness of our souls is revealed to us plainly. Even though it’s painful it is always a grace, a gift from God, to discover the peril in which we’ve placed ourselves because of our sin. At that moment we will have to make a decision – do we double down on our willfulness as Judas did, or do we cast ourselves upon the loving mercy of Christ, who offered His flesh and His blood as the sacrifice by which we, who are all His betrayers by our sin, are saved?