Wednesday of Holy Week (A)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Joseph Church, Ponchatoula
Judas Iscariot is one of three souls Dante condemns to the ninth circle of Hell, the circle reserved for traitors. He spends eternity being gnawed on by one of the three heads of the Devil. That Judas is a traitor is indisputable. He betrayed his friend and teacher, Jesus, to the men who plotted against him. For 30 pieces of silver and with a kiss, Judas sends Jesus to Pilate and the cross. Why Judas betrayed his friend is up for speculation. A quick read of the gospel story seems to point to greed. Judas was a thief. He stole from the disciples' common purse, robbing his brother-students of contributions made by the faithful. It's possible that Judas' greed joined forces with his nationalism and both pushed him to betray Jesus b/c he felt that Jesus had betrayed his promise to claim the Judean throne in a bloody revolution. Or maybe Judas was destined to betray Jesus and simply acted out his scripted part in the Passion drama. Figuring out the psychological motivations of the living is difficult; doing so for the long-dead is impossible. What we know is that Judas sold his friend and teacher for a price. He lived just long enough to regret that bargain. Whatever we may think of Judas, his betrayal of Christ brings home one hard truth: even our most faithful friendships are poisoned when we bargain with the Devil.
Everyone involved in the plot against Jesus understands that they are plotting against an innocent man. They distort his teachings. They find witnesses to lie about his actions. They knowingly accuse him of crimes he did not commit. Even Pilate knows that he's innocent, but he takes the politician's route of irresponsibility and dumps the decision to execute Jesus onto the mob. And the mob—cheering Jesus on Monday and screaming for his execution on Friday—knows nothing more of the man or his mission than what they've heard on the street. He's a blasphemer, a revolutionary, a fraud. They betray Jesus and their own religious heritage by finding him guilty w/o the trial that their traditions demand. All of them—the Pharisees, the scribes, the chief priests, the Romans, the mob, and even his own friends—all of them make a bargain with the Devil and suffer from the poison he injects into their souls. For each of them the poison is slightly different but no less deadly. At the moment they seal the deal with the Enemy, they become enemies of God.
And that's the Devil's ultimate goal: to increase the ranks of God's enemies. He lead a third of the angelic host into Hell. From the Pit, he tempts and taunts and tries his best to make us believe that it is possible for us to become gods w/o God. He will use silver to tear one away from Christ's friendship. He will use anger and vengeance to tear away another. With subtle compromise and accommodation he will gather many more. Most of us don't have it in us to be a Pilate or a Judas. But how many of us have the makings of a Mary or a Martha? We don't have to be Pilate or Judas to betray the Christ. Nor do we have to be Mary or Martha to be his faithful friend. When the crisis moment comes, when our enemies enter the garden and ask, “Aren't you a friend of the man from Nazareth?”, all we need do is set our faces like flint and tell the truth. Let the sword fall, or the cell door close, or the gag choke our voice. Let come what will. But tell the truth. Anyone who bargains with the Devil, anyone who closes a deal with sin lives just long to regret it. And that's just long enough to be too late.
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