When Judas, who had betrayed him, saw that Jesus was condemned, he was seized with remorse and returned the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders. “I have sinned,” he said, “for I have betrayed innocent blood.”
“What is that to us?” they replied. “That’s your responsibility.”
So Judas threw the money into the temple and left. Then he went away and hanged himself (Mt 27:3-5).
At the risk of impertinence, I’m just going to assume that everyone reading this (myself included) has already betrayed Jesus today. At least a few times. So I’d like to focus less on the betrayal passage itself and more on what happens to Judas Iscariot afterward. Because after Judas betrays Jesus, Jesus is condemned. And it becomes clear to Judas that his betrayal has set the crucifixion into motion.
This is where we learn the full meaning of what Judas has to teach us, one that’s less about betrayal and more about where we go with that betrayal, or you might say, how we handle sin. After all, a betrayal from one of the disciples should signal to us that our own betrayal of Jesus Christ is inevitable.
It is in how Judas handles his sin where the lesson is found.
Judas is seized with remorse. So he returns the bribe. But here’s the thing. He doesn’t find forgiveness. The chief priests send him away.
Remorse and redemption are an ocean apart. Judas has done what we all so often do. We try to fix the smallest part of our fallen selves. Because naming our sin and asking for mercy can require a humility we are unwilling to offer.
And so our sins follow us and haunt us, just as sin followed and haunted our brother Judas all the way to the grave.
In the Christian faith, redemption is never impossible. Turning around is always an option. It may not feel like it. We may not want to beg forgiveness from God. We especially may not want to plead for forgiveness from our friends and family. But that movement is what keeps us from drowning in the despair of ourselves.
At its essence, Christianity is a religion that takes forgiveness seriously. Without strings attached. This is why deathbed confessions are so much more uncommon in other traditions. Probably because they don’t count for much.
But in Christianity, they count for everything. The deathbed confession of the worst criminal carries just as much weight as that of the lifelong Christian. We are “fools for Christ” as St. Paul wrote in his letter to the church in Corinth only because Jesus was such a fool to love us.
Imagine what this story would have looked like if Judas had sought out Jesus after the betrayal. And begged him for forgiveness. Yet Judas was incapable of that. I pray in my heart that God would make me capable. That God would make me able to turn back to him, time and time again, and say, “I am sorry, Lord. Thank you for rescuing me from my own deep darkness.”
This is the reason we have Lent. It is a chance to turn around. To meet Jesus anew. To realize how great our need of him really is.
So here we are. The Wednesday of Holy Week. Did you give up something for Lent? Chocolate? Television? SweartoGod I will do Bible Study every day this time? Super. I hope you failed at your Lenten discipline. I mean that. I hope you gave up the hardest thing you can imagine. Fail quickly, the faster the better. And then I hope that you fall into the arms of the Mercy Maker and cry out, “Lord I am so sorry. And grateful. That you just keep forgiving me.”