Holy Week has its way of focusing us on the deep mystery of Christ’s suffering, in all its aspects, in all its realistic details. And one of those harsh realities is the excruciating pain of betrayal.
The Gospel of John offers a chilling detail of the moment Judas walked out of the Last Supper. He states simply: “It was dark.” This dovetails with the frightening assertion about Judas in Matthew’s Gospel that “Satan entered his heart” the moment he took the morsel of food from Jesus’ sacred hand. These are the dynamics of betrayal, and Our Lord knew them up close and personal.
Betrayal has to be one of the most painful of human experiences. Your enemies don’t betray you; they have nothing in common with you to betray. Friends betray you – your mutual camaraderie, good will, fellowship, and your openhanded gift of self to them. Friends are the only ones who can take your gifts and treacherously throw them back in your face.
And isn’t it interesting that none of the other disciples knew who Jesus was talking about when He pronounced those unsettling words, “One of you will betray me.” Which means simply that Jesus never betrayed Judas in turn. The Lord didn’t gossip about the thief in the group. He didn’t talk Judas down behind his back to the other disciples. He didn’t foment division or betray trust. Jesus was not a betrayer. Judas was.
But Judas was more. He was an opportunistic schemer, a spy and informant who went to the hostile authorities seeking payment for his crime. We call the Wednesday of Holy Week Spy Wednesday for that reason. It is spying, not in the James Bond sense, but in the sense of plotting and scheming from the inside, disingenuously, until the right moment arrives. The Apostles were unaware that one of their number could be so callous, but there he was, finally revealed as the traitor in the midst of them.
When Judas left the gathering, he must have gone directly to the Sanhedrin to get the guard who, within a short time that night, would arrest Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. Like all schemers, he wasted no time in implementing his crime when the time was right.
And as his last act of treachery, he betrayed Jesus with a kiss. Human sinfulness doesn’t get lower than that.
And yet, Jesus endured all of this darkness with equanimity, as if He knew exactly what would happen and watched it play out before His very eyes. Despite Our Savior’s divine foreknowledge, He obeyed the Father’s Will in every detail of this drama – and He suffered.
St. Thomas Aquinas says that “the Passion of Christ completely suffices to fashion our lives.” He means that in Christ we find the remedy for every suffering we could possibly experience. In those few hours of His Passion, Jesus took upon Himself every possible form of human suffering since the beginning of time. Our Blessed Lord had them all thrust upon Him, with their full impact, in less than a day.
When the scriptures describe Him as the “lamb led to slaughter” and one “bruised for our offenses,” they are painting a picture of the greatest act of love mankind has ever known. But of all the bitterness of His agony, the betrayal of a friend must have been His greatest suffering.
If Holy Week accomplishes anything in our lives, it should be this: it invites us to acknowledge our part in the same betrayal. Our sinful betrayals of His love have a different character than the act of one who sold Him for thirty pieces of silver, but we too have dipped our hand in the dish with His. We too have walked in His company and have called Him Lord. Yet, it was because of our sins that He suffered and died.
Let us pray this week for the grace of true repentance, and if we are able to go to Confession, that we do it with sincerity of heart and experience the life-giving effects of the sacrament.
To his great loss, Judas didn’t repent of his betrayal, but later that same night, Peter repented of his. Only one of the two men became the Rock on which Christ founded His Church.