Judas betrayed Jesus for 30 pieces of silver. The greed and transactional nature of such a betrayal shocks us. Should it? Is that really so unusual in our world?
2 Samuel, chapter 18; Psalm 56; Matthew, chapter 27
Matthew 27:1-10 (NLT):
Very early in the morning the leading priests and the elders of the people met again to lay plans for putting Jesus to death. Then they bound him, led him away, and took him to Pilate, the Roman governor.
When Judas, who had betrayed him, realized that Jesus had been condemned to die, he was filled with remorse. So he took the thirty pieces of silver back to the leading priests and the elders. “I have sinned,” he declared, “for I have betrayed an innocent man.” “What do we care?” they retorted. “That’s your problem.” Then Judas threw the silver coins down in the Temple and went out and hanged himself.
The leading priests picked up the coins. “It wouldn’t be right to put this money in the Temple treasury,” they said, “since it was payment for murder.” After some discussion they finally decided to buy the potter’s field, and they made it into a cemetery for foreigners. That is why the field is still called the Field of Blood. This fulfilled the prophecy of Jeremiah that says, “They took the thirty pieces of silver – the price at which he was valued by the people of Israel, and purchased the potter’s field, as the Lord directed.”
In yesterday’s reflection (https://www.patheos.com/blogs/myjourney/2023/05/what-happened-in-gethsemane) I discussed Judas’ betrayal of Jesus. Judas’ decision to betray Jesus for money certainly contributes to our disdain for Judas. However, in today’s passage, we see the rest of the story. When Judas…realized that Jesus had been condemned to die, he was filled with remorse. What did he think was going to happen? The religious leaders had been looking for a way to kill Jesus for quite some time. How could Judas be surprised?
So he took the thirty pieces of silver back to the leading priests and the elders. Would that “fix” things? No. Returning the money did not – could not – undo his decision to betray Jesus. No matter how Judas may have tried to justify his actions, he could not go back and reverse his decision. Overcome with guilt, he went out and hanged himself.
The Religious Leaders
But Judas is not the only villain in this story. The religious leaders had plotted and schemed to find a way to kill Jesus. They justified it to themselves by claiming that he blasphemed and led people astray, but the reality is that he threatened their power. The degree to which they had adopted the world’s methods and priorities is shocking.
First, when Judas said, “I have betrayed an innocent man,” they responded, “What do we care? That’s your problem.” They did not have an ounce of remorse for what they were doing to Jesus, so they certainly did not care about Judas. Judas was collateral damage – and once he had betrayed Jesus, they didn’t need him any longer.
Second, notice their discussion of the money Judas returned. They picked up the coins. Thirty pieces of silver – they weren’t just going to leave it on the floor! Next, they said, “It wouldn’t be right to put this money in the Temple treasury, since it was payment for murder.” No problem acknowledging what they were doing, but they didn’t want to “pollute” the Temple treasury with blood money!
30 Pieces of Silver
After some discussion they finally decided to buy the potter’s field, and they made it into a cemetery for foreigners. These were the religious leaders of Israel. They prided themselves on knowing the Scriptures (what we call the Old Testament), yet none of them made the connection with the prophecy in Jeremiah. Wouldn’t you think the phrase thirty pieces of silver would trigger somebody’s recollection?
Matthew says that Jeremiah had written, “They took the thirty pieces of silver – the price at which he was valued by the people of Israel, and purchased the potter’s field, as the Lord directed.” However, the quotation is actually from Zechariah 11: “And I said to them, ‘If you like, give me my wages, whatever I am worth; but only if you want to.’ So they counted out for my wages thirty pieces of silver. And the Lord said to me, ‘Throw it to the potter’ – this magnificent sum at which they valued me! So I took the thirty coins and threw them to the potter in the Temple of the Lord.”
It’s important for us to remember that in Jesus’ day (and Matthew’s), Jewish methods of Scriptural interpretation were much different that are ours. Combining two passages based on a common word (like “potter”) was common. In this case, Jeremiah (chapters 18-19 and 32) and Zechariah discuss payments, a potter, and the Temple. Jeremiah talks about buying a field; Zechariah references “the sum at which they valued me.” The religious leaders, so caught up in trying to get rid of Jesus, missed the kind of connection which they made all the time – and unwittingly fulfilled the prophecy.
The point is not how people interpreted Scripture then and now. Hannah Arendt coined the phrase “the banality of evil” in regard to Adolf Eichmann’s trial for Nazi war crimes. The point of her observation was that the evil of the Nazis’ attempt to exterminate the Jewish people had become such a part of Hitler’s Germany that Eichmann was able to commit evil deeds without evil intentions.
There was pushback against Arendt’s assessment of Eichmann as not having evil intentions. However, my point today is not about an individual’s remorse (Judas) or lack of remorse (the religious leaders). My point is that a society or a culture can become some accustomed to evil that it is no longer “unthinkable.” That brings me to the application to our world today.
It seems that almost every day something happens that makes me stop and think, “How did we get to this point?” We have become so accustomed to sin that it no longer shocks us. I don’t mean that individually, of course; sin still shocks some of us.
The Downward Spiral of Romans 1
Shocked, but not surprised – because Paul described this downward spiral in Romans 1. People reject God’s truth – reject the very idea of “truth.” “They invent new ways of sinning” (Romans 1:30). “Worse yet, they encourage others to do them, too” (Romans 1:32). The only shock that seems to still be present is the shock that things aren’t getting any better.
But that shouldn’t shock anyone either. There is a connection to all of this: the complete focus on self and rejection of God and His truth. There are many ways that this self-absorption and rejection of God are manifested. Judas betrayed Jesus for money. The religious leaders rejected Jesus because he threatened their power. People reject God’s truth because they want to serve themselves. It’s been that way from the beginning.
There is still hope: the answer requires acknowledging God and his truth. Satan has been trying to convince people that real happiness and fulfillment comes from “doing our own thing.” He told Adam and Eve, “You will be like God.” The truth is, we’re not God. But when we acknowledge God and this truth, we find true peace and fulfillment – because we were created to be in relationship with God.
Father, we acknowledge that there is evil all around us. In one sense, we know that it has always been this way. Genesis 6 tells us that before the flood, you looked and saw that people’s thoughts were always and continually evil. But it does not have to be that way! Through Jesus, you have made it possible for us to be reconciled to you and restored to spiritual life and health.
Help us not to be overcome by evil, but to overcome evil with good. At times, it seems as though the situation is hopeless; remind us that you have already won the victory! Guide us in your way. Help us to reflect the peace and hope that Jesus brings, that others might turn from sin and self and find their way to you. Amen.
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