When Jesus asked his Apostles, “Who do men say that I am?” He got some interesting replies. When He asked who the Apostles thought He was, only Peter nailed the right answer. I have often thought about Judas in that moment. What was Judas thinking?
When Peter nailed the correct answer, Jesus made it clear that the Father was the one who slipped him the correct response. From that moment on, the Apostles all knew who Jesus said that He was.
The Christ. The Son of the Living God.
Judas was there for it all: The raising of people from the dead, the healing of the sick, walking on water, the loaves and fishes. He saw it all. He even went out on the missionary mission and preached and worked wonders in the name of Jesus. How, then, could he have betrayed Jesus? What was he thinking?
Did he think that Jesus didn’t know what he was up to? Did he think that Jesus would escape certain death as He had in the past when the people of His home town wanted to throw Him from a cliff? Was Judas trying to scam a few pieces of silver? Or did Judas have the blackest heart in the history of the world?
When Jesus begged from the cross for the Father to forgive His executioners, for they knew not what they were doing, did that cover Judas, who saw it all, who walked with Jesus, who was chosen?
It is ominous that Jesus said at the Last Supper, “…but woe to that man by whom the Son of man shall be betrayed. It were better for him, if that man had not been born.”
But that did not stop Saint Teresa of Avila from praying that Judas might be saved. Perhaps Teresa was on to something.
It seems from the Gospel narratives that the Apostles didn’t grasp the crucifixion right away, nor the resurrection. Peter stood somewhat befuddled in the empty tomb. Then there was the bewilderment by the two on the Road to Emmaus, and Jesus’ gentle admonishment at how slow they were to understand all that the prophets had foretold. Even then, they only recognized Him in the Eucharist, in the breaking of the bread.
So, what exactly is Judas’ villainy in all of this? What did he know, and did he really grasp what it was that he was doing?
I ask because I reflect on my own sins, the ones that have been every bit as responsible for putting Jesus on that cross as Judas was: The sins that were committed with sufficient reflection and full consent of the will. The mortal sins. Are these not a betrayal too, of the baptismal vows, of the past firm purposes of amendment, of graces received and squandered?
When we stood during Sunday’s Gospel and chanted the part of the crowd, “Crucify Him,” it was more than a parish play. It is in fact what all of our sins have screamed aloud.
I think Teresa saw this when she looked at her own past sinfulness. That’s why she could pray for the salvation of Judas. In truth, I have never been entirely comfortable with Judas as the villain of the story in Holy Week. I see a weak and tragic man. But then I see 10 other Apostles as weak and tragic as they headed for the tall grass as Jesus was executed. Only John remained. And I see my own weaknesses, my own sins that nailed Jesus to the cross.
To despise Judas for what he did is to make a distinction that is at once invidious and dangerous. Only Mary can make that distinction without it being invidious, because Mary is the only human (apart from her son who was both human and divine) who didn’t sin. It is dangerous to despise Judas, because such judgement takes one’s eye off of one’s own sinfulness and the need for Jesus’ sacrificial death to redeem those sins.
Perhaps we really don’t fully know what it is we do, even with sufficient reflection and full consent of the will. Perhaps Judas didn’t fully know either. Perhaps when he hanged himself from the torment and shame, when his body fell and split open, perhaps such an ignominious ending for an Apostle was punishment enough. Certainly Caiaphas and Pilate showed no such remorse.
Whatever Judas’ fate, it is enough this week to ask Jesus’ mercy and forgiveness for my own betrayals, and to follow Teresa’s example and offer up a prayer for the salvation of Judas. It is the Fatima prayer, is it not?
“O, my Jesus! Forgive us our sins. Save us from the fires of Hell. Lead all souls to Heaven, especially those in most need of Thy Mercy!”