The Greed of Judas
Happy Holy Wednesday, aka Spy Wednesday!
So, why is it called spy? For a while, I thought that there must be some sort special Latin word that I didn’t know about called “spy.” After all, it couldn’t mean the actual English word, spy, which conjured images in my mind of James Bond, John le Carre novels, and Spy vs. Spy. But no! It is actually called spy because this day is named after Judas, of all people!
Take a look at the gospel reading of the day:
14 Then one of the Twelve, who was called Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests 15 and said, “What are you willing to give me if I hand him over to you?” They paid him thirty pieces of silver, 16and from that time on he looked for an opportunity to hand him over.17 On the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the disciples approached Jesus and said, “Where do you want us to prepare for you to eat the Passover?” 18 He said, “Go into the city to a certain man and tell him, ‘The teacher says, “My appointed time draws near; in your house I shall celebrate the Passover with my disciples.”’” 19The disciples then did as Jesus had ordered, and prepared the Passover.20When it was evening, he reclined at table with the Twelve. 21And while they were eating, he said, “Amen, I say to you, one of you will betray me.” 22Deeply distressed at this, they began to say to him one after another, “Surely it is not I, Lord?” 23He said in reply, “He who has dipped his hand into the dish with me is the one who will betray me. 24 The Son of Man indeed goes, as it is written of him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed. It would be better for that man if he had never been born.” 25 Then Judas, his betrayer, said in reply, “Surely it is not I, Rabbi?” He answered, “You have said so.”
So, it is greed that does Judas in, alas!
One of my favorite artworks of Judas is this one, by James Tissot. Take a look at it!
What immediately catches my eye is the well-dressed man in yellow and gray who is looking suspiciously behind his shoulder. Mind you, he looks like a sneaky man and a very possible contender for Judas, since he is in the foreground, and especially since there are people right over his shoulder who are craning to look toward him.
But that is not Judas!
Instead, Judas is the man in shabby clothes with a receding hairline, gesticulating wildly to the men in front of him who listen to him with curiosity. He looks perfectly ordinary — poor, even — and, were it not for the suspicious stranger giving serious side-eye to Judas, the scene would look positively banal.
Now, there are a lot of people that try to make Judas out as this larger than life supervillain. And that makes sense. After all, Judas betrayed Jesus! That’s horrible! He couldn’t have betrayed Jesus just because he was a bit greedy, right? Greed isn’t even considered the deadliest sin — that belongs to pride, which is what Peter was guilty of! That greed must have been something out of this world for him to be so horrible!
And that’s why I love this work: it humanizes Judas in such a way that it makes him an ordinary man. Which he was.
And that fact that he was an ordinary man should give us shivers down our spine.
When we think of greed, we like to think of Wall Street fat cats and people who already have amassed large stocks of money and are continuing to amass even more money as being greedy. After all, these people have more than enough to survive and then some, and yet they continue to work so they can have even more money. That’s why my eye — and possibly yours as well — was drawn immediately to the suspicious stranger who was well-dressed, and not the man with shabby clothes gesticulating wildly, as the possible contender for Judas.
Frankly? Judas looks pathetic and very ordinary.
And yet, at this moment, his greed has consumed him to the point where he would gladly give up Jesus for a mere thirty pieces of silver.
St. Thomas Aquinas once wrote, “Greed is a sin against God, just as all mortal sins, in as much as man condemns things eternal for the sake of temporal things.”
In the case of Judas, he was already poor — after all, he was a disciple of Jesus, and being a disciple of Jesus was not a money-making opportunity. He had enough to survive and to continue being a disciple of Jesus — that was all. And that was supposed to be enough.
But it wasn’t. Not for Judas. His betrayal of Jesus was prompted by the sin of greed was trading a tiny bit more material wealth — thirty pieces of silver — for God Himself.
Which begs the question… what are we willing to trade God for?
Help us realize that Your Love is enough for us.