We had all gone astray like sheep, each following his own way. (Isaiah 53:6)
Let’s reflect for a moment on Judas’ willfulness.
Before him stood the Messiah. Jesus had enchanted Judas, like He had enchanted all the Apostles and disciples, so that they became Apostles and disciples in the first place.
Judas followed Jesus around for months, years. He listened to Jesus’ teachings, saw Him work miracles. Judas witnessed the constant loving kindness of Christ. He heard the Lord’s words of eternal life. He traveled in the company of people who believed. Christ invited Judas into the most intimate moments of divine revelation.
But, as it turned out, Jesus of Nazareth did not prove to be the Messiah that Judas had in mind. He did not want this kind of Messiah.
Now, we can only speculate as to what exactly Judas wanted in a Messiah. A stronger political operator? A military organizer? A more self-effacing type of person, with less grandeur? That is, more of a Joe Sixpack of a Messiah? Maybe someone not quite so relentlessly spiritual and otherworldly? Or someone who would be not quite so perfectly comfortable with undesirables like prostitutes and tax collectors? A shorter Messiah? A native of a place with a more-storied history than Nazareth? Less of a poet? More of a horseman and less of an indefatigable walker?
Who knows? Judas came from a different part of the country than all the other Apostles. He was the only one who was not a northerner, a Galilean; Judas’ hometown was located south of Jerusalem. Perhaps Judas felt alienated for this reason, felt like an odd man out. In truth, Judas probably had good reason to think that he had been raised better than the rustics he found himself surrounded by. The fact of the matter is, we don’t know what was in Judas’ mind exactly.
What we do know is that Judas did not agree; he did not accept; he did not approve; he did not open his heart to let the beautiful truth in. Instead, he decided: This man may be charismatic and wonderful; He may have a great following of humble and loyal disciples. But he is not what we need. We need something different. We need a different Messiah. Not this one. This claimant to the Messiahship needs to be gotten rid of.
In the face of the beauty and inexorable power of Jesus Christ, Judas came to this decision. His decision may strike us as incomprehensible. How could Judas be so stupendously willful?
But are we really so far from it?
My dear mom made her career as a high-school teacher. Among her friends was a teacher that I had during my senior year. This teacher of mine said to my mom, during a private friendly chat, “You know, your son is charming. And smart. But, my God, does he have a will of stone.”
This observation was offered with affection. But it was by no means a compliment. What she meant was: I am trying to help your son grow, and he won’t let me.
To that dear teacher, who only meant me good, and to countless others—to you, dear reader—I can only offer my sincerest apologies for being an obtuse, arrogant, willful numbskull.
Our greatest heroes have had strong wills. Martin Luther King, Jr. had a will of iron. And Michael Jordan, too. And Blessed Mother Theresa. Our beloved Holy Father, Pope Francis, seems to be one strong-willed dude. Great people tend to have strong wills. But Adolf Hitler also had a strong will. And Mao Zedong. And the emperor Caligula. And Judas Iscariot.
May God be merciful to us willful ones. The real sign of greatness, the quality of the living saint, is a will (of whatever size or strength) which harmonizes with reality. The truly great person is the one who recognizes the power and the plan of God, accepts it, and co-operates.
No matter how clever I may be, no matter how creative and enterprising—my will does not guide the Divine Hand. The Divine Hand guides me. If I know anything, if I have any good ideas, or good qualities, or energy, or talent—it is all because God has given it to me. God’s will, and only His will, is law. All of us, without exception, can say: God knows better than I do.
Better to follow the voice of the Good Shepherd like an insignificant little sheep than to get enshrined in some Hall of Fame somewhere at the price of my immortal soul. The good Lord has a plan for all of us. He doesn’t ask that we know it all. He simply demands that we believe.