This is not what Judas had planned. Three years ago when Jesus looked at him and said, “Follow Me,” Judas was sure his beloved, but oppressed Israel was on the brink of revolution. Had not the prophets foretold it? A Messiah, one who would throw off heavy Rome with all her filthy power, and restore Israel to her former glory. The kind of glory Judas lay at night imagining – his homeland held up and honored among the nations, her rulers like David the Warrior and Solomon the Wise. Nations would tremble at the name of her King. Then he could throw off his lousy trade work that – after Roman taxes – left him barely enough to feed himself, let alone his loved ones. Some said this Messiah was alive today; Judas had hoped maybe Jesus would be the One.
But this Messiah has not really delivered. Rather than gather men and weapons, Jesus seems content walking the countryside telling stories no one understands and then leaving town as soon as there is talk of making him king. Judas can’t understand it – why does he shrink away when he so obviously has the power to take control? Over the past three years, Judas has seen it all – every miracle under the sun. Jesus has been brilliant in his miracle tactics: starting small – water into wine – as to not draw too much attention, but enough to pull people into his ranks. Then slowly he’d up the ante – sight, lameness, leprosy – until finally, just recently in fact, he raised his friend Lazarus from the dead. You would have thought with all the followers he gained from that little episode he could have taken back Jerusalem the same day! But, no. Instead he asked for a donkey – a colt! – and rode into the city all lowly and meager and completely unarmed.
For months, Judas was bewildered. But now, he is just bitter. Three years of his life wasted. Rather than throw down the chains of Rome or be part of a greater movement, he has only begged his bread, following after a man who, not only hasn’t raged against injustice and lawlessness, he embraces it! Accepting a tax collector into their inner circle, forgiving prostitutes and even healing a Roman authority’s daughter. Just the other day, one of the Pharisees came asking Jesus whether it was just, in God’s eyes, to pay taxes. Jesus accused them of trying to trap him. Judas thought it a legitimate question.
“Bring me a denarius and let me look at it,” he said. They brought the coin, and he asked them, “Whose portrait is on this? And whose inscription?”
“Caesar’s,” they replied.
Then Jesus said to them, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.”
Everyone was amazed at the teaching. Judas grew only angrier. Long gone was the guilt he’d harbored over helping himself to the group’s funds. Jesus obviously would rather see Caesar get their hard earned cash than have it spent on… well, anything would be better than seeing it go to hoarding Rome.
And then there was last night. While dining in Bethany at a man’s home called Simon the Leper, a woman came in the room. Her hair hung long and dark around her face. She made eye contact with no one – especially not Jesus – and she carried with her an alabaster jar. Though she would not look up and her hair nearly hid her face, she walked straight toward Jesus. Then she broke the alabaster jar and poured its contents on his head.
The smell of pure nard filled the room. Judas’ eyes shot up and glared first at the woman, then at the men around him. Did the others smell the expense of that perfume as strongly as he? He whispered hoarsely to one sitting next to him, “Why this waste of perfume? It could have been sold for more than a year’s wages and the money given to the poor!” His voice pitched and he could hold his indignation no more.
“Woman! You waste! What are you thinking?!”
“Leave her alone,” said Jesus. “Why are you bothering her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want. But you will not always have me. She did what she could. She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for my burial. I tell you the truth, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.”
Now Judas Iscariot is filled with blackness, and his sole purpose under heaven is watching for a moment to betray Jesus into the hands of his enemies.
Some things of interest:
- Today’s story was built primarily around accounts from Mark 12, 14 and John 12. The woman who anoints Jesus can be found in all four Gospel accounts, with the details varying slightly.
- The John account names the woman as Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus.
- I do not suppose I know Judas’ motives for betraying Jesus, outside of the Scriptures saying Satan entered in him. I have only tried to create an understanding for us – the slippery slope of disillusionment when our ideals don’t match with reality.
Unresolved anger, and unhealed wounds will always be the death of Hope.