It would be wrong to view Judas Iscariot, the betrayer of the Lord, as a tragic figure in the unfolding of the last days of Our Lord’s Passion. Pitiable yes, but tragic no. Tragic denotes a figure to whom misfortune out of their control befalls. This is not Judas, for his actions were not fated but chosen by himself. He was a disciple of Christ, an Apostle even, chosen by Him, taught by Him, and who was sent forth to preach the Good News of the coming of the Kingdom. Judas was in want of nothing, for he shared all things in common with the rest of the Apostles; from material goods, to instruction, to mandate, to spiritual graces. Even after he had begun his thievery, Christ, who knows all things, did not make this secret known to bring public shame upon Judas, and thus possible self-justification for Judas’ actions stemming from a bruised ego. Despite all these good things, and all this mercy given unto him, Judas still chose to betray Christ, to trade the treasures of Heaven for 30 pieces of silver.
Why? Much is speculated on this point, but it must not be because Judas was fated to do so. Christ came into the world to save sinners, to offer mercy to each and all without exclusion and this includes Judas. He is not excluded from this, and God is not the author of evil, even evil that leads to a good, even the greatest good. God makes crooked paths straight; He does not fashion the crooked path.
Judas was younger than Jesus but mature enough to bear the responsibility of tending the money purse. Like others of his age, he would have had a certain eye for the suffering of his fellow Jews at the hands of the Romans. Like other good and pious Jews of his age steeped in the Torah, he would have been praying for deliverance from the Romans, for the Strong Arm of the Lord, and for the Messiah. Like the others, even the Apostles, his vision was myopic, blinded, looking only for an earthly deliverance and a restoration of the Kingdom of Israel, and missing the promises of God in the scriptures of a spiritual deliverance from the Kingdom of Satan and the establishment of the Kingdom of God.
Somewhere along the way, Judas becomes disillusioned with the project, and he begins to steal from the money bag. Is he stealing to line his pocket, to gain worldly possessions for himself? Is he stealing to give to the poor himself, to bring accolades to himself? What matters is that he did, and, as evil only begets more evil, it was not enough. When opportunity came to sell Jesus to the Sanhedrin, he actively sought out a bargain; a life that he might have wealth more abundantly.
This is what Judas did externally, but we would be amiss not noticing what is going on in his soul. Even if Judas is not cognitively aware of it, his soul knows that he is in the presence of his Master, his Creator, his God. He sees, hears, and receives from the very lips of the Incarnate Son of the Father the Father’s love for him, and the People of His Covenant. Judas hears the words and sees the action, sees the very fulfillment of the Promises – and yet, and yet, he does not let God be God. Not God over the Jewish peoples, not God over the poor (he’d rather have Jesus deal with the poor according to his designs), not God over his own heart. And therein is the problem: the wound of Original Sin that cut the descendants of Adam off from God’s presence. God’s throne is upon the human heart, but He has not taken up His reign there for God so was cast out by Adam and God so respects our choices to keep Him cast Him out that He will not force Himself to be where He is not wanted. Yet, He offers to those who would follow Him restoration and enthronement of Himself in their hearts. This is what Jesus is doing and is at that very moment offering to Judas.
Yet, Judas comes to prefer the Old Man, the man whose heart is an empty throne, to a Messiah who is not offering earthly pleasures, material wealth to the poor, removal of the yoke of the Romans, restoration of the glories of the Kingdom of Israel. Judas would rather there be an empty throne so that he can seek to achieve those things according to his will. The rub here is that though God will not sit at table where He is not wanted, that doesn’t mean that others won’t. The Old Man’s empty throne cannot be kept empty, for the devil will spy it, covet it, and seize it by force, not to rule it but to damn it and spit in the eye of God.
If God does not guard the house of His throne, who can keep the devil out? No one. The devil enters Judas not to have Judas betray Christ, for Judas had already started down that path. Rather, it is to destroy Judas, to ruin the throne of God. Notice the hatred of the devil for the human soul: He doesn’t rule it. He doesn’t govern it. He doesn’t bring it spiritual goods. He doesn’t bring it material goods. He doesn’t help the soul achieve the good things of this word. He doesn’t help the soul achieve its desires. He ruins it, drives it to despair, and has it flee from God into the depths of hell.
Judas’ conscience won’t let him alone after the betrayal – it knows what he has done in betraying the Living God. He justifies himself; fails. Tries to find forgiveness from the Sanhedrin; they cannot forgive him, even if they had wanted to. Jesus is the only one who offers forgiveness and Judas won’t seek this path – won’t let God be enthroned upon his heart. He desires only to be a master of his destiny, to receive forgiveness according to how he wants it or not at all. And not at all it is, and so he hangs himself and flees into the outer darkness of the damned rather than receive mercy.
Judas is to be pitied but these recountings of the Passion of Our Lord are not there for us to have knowledge of such things, or to look with scorn upon Judas, but to rather look, and with trepidation, see how Judas is patterned in our own lives. For there is nothing terribly unique about Judas other than that he is that specific individual who betrayed Jesus. The refusal to let God be enthroned upon the human heart, the preference to have the empty throne of the Old Man, is the condition of fallen man. It is Original Sin, concupiscence, and the proclivity to malice. It is The Parable of the Vineyard Tenants (Matthew 21:33-46), which is but the oft-repeated story of Israel, which is a macro representation of what goes on in each and every human heart.
Man desires to be the Old Man, with an empty throne. This we know, this we have all done. Judas the Betrayer, yes, but so are we. Each and every time we fall. Each and every time we prefer our ways over His ways. Each and every time we seek material goods over spiritual goods. Each and every time we seek to materially help the poor without offering them eternal life. Each and every time we exchange Him for 30 pieces of silver to acquire an empty throne – a throne that may not be empty for long.
Yet, this is not the last word. Christ still offers repentance, still offers forgiveness, still heads to Calvary to shed His Blood for us that we might have Him for our King enthroned upon our hearts.