Judas the Petty Thief

Thirty pieces of silver. How much value did those coins have? A safe estimate: $3,000.

A lot to have in your pocket at any given moment. But not much if you think long-term. We read in Scripture that Judas was a thief. But not a grand larcenist. A petty thief.

Did Judas ever really believe in Jesus? How could he not have? He traveled as one of the Lord’s intimate companions for years. He underwent the hardships of their itinerant life together. And Judas saw with his own eyes the wonders Jesus had worked. Healings, exorcisms, feeding the multitude, raising the dead. Judas must have believed, at least for a time, that Jesus is the saving Christ. At the Last Supper, Christ made Judas one of the original priests.

giotto judasBut at some point Judas had lost his faith. He stopped trusting in Jesus’ promises.

Let’s try to sympathize. Judas found himself confronted with a stark either/or, similar to the choice faced by the high priests at Jesus’ trial. Judas had to believe that this man was indeed the diving King of the universe, the Lord of Israel—even though he had no military plans and no apparent thought of any kind of political maneuvers whatsoever. Judas had to believe this man when He consecrated bread and wine as the new Passover sacrament, saying “This is My Body and Blood.”

Christ had drawn Judas so close that the petty larcenist did not have his usual recourse to half-measures. He couldn’t wait and see anymore. He either had to accept that this pilgrimage to Jerusalem would unfold as only the Master could foresee, with a goal that only the Master understood—that is, Judas had to walk beside Christ with total faith—or Judas had to bolt, start over, walk off—with as much cash in his pocket as he could lay his hands on.

Judas made the wrong choice. Yes, Christ demanded total faith during the last Passover pilgrimage to the holy city. But why wouldn’t we trust in Him like that? Why wouldn’t we let Him lead us through the dark mystery of death? Does it make more sense to walk away from this rabbi? Hardly.

Let’s choose to believe, and stay close, and accompany the Christ to the end.

Triduum Inner Circle

As we heard Sunday at Holy Mass, the high priest asked the Lord Jesus about His teachings. He responded, “Ask the people I taught. I spoke openly.”

Now, the question suggested that Jesus had conspired somehow to subvert legitimate authority. The Lord’s answer, in that light, was perfectly honest and true. Christ could hardly have been bothered to conspire against the Sanhedrin, or Herod, or Pontius Pilate, or the Emperor Tiberias, for that matter. Christ’s horizons were immeasurably higher than political conspiracies. He loved all these leaders, of course, and willed only that they, too, could share in the joy of His Kingdom. Christ was no penny-ante revolutionary conspirator.

giotto judasThat said, we know that there is another side to this. The Lord did teach His doctrine openly, without hiding anything, speaking to large crowds. But He also spoke intimately, in private, with the close circle that followed Him everywhere He went.

The Twelve were not the smartest, nor the holiest, nor the most-attractive of all the people who heard Jesus’ teaching. But they were the men who had renounced everything else in life for the sake of following Jesus to the Kingdom of God. The Twelve enjoyed an intimacy with Christ by virtue of their level of commitment to Him. Because of this intimacy, they heard things that others did not hear. They knew things about Christ that others did not know.

This explains, I think, why the Lord said that, of all those involved in inflicting His bitter Passion and death upon Him–from the Sanhedrin and their false witnesses, to Herod, to Pilate, to the centurions who scourged and crucified an innocent man just for the fun of it–among all these guilty ones, Judas had committed the most grievous sin.

Sermon_on_the_Mount_Fra_AngelicoBecause Judas had betrayed the intimacy of friendly trust with Christ.

Christ was unfathomably humble, as we know, but He was no egalitarian. The inner-circle of master and disciples was no democracy. The deal clearly was: You trust me altogether, abandoning all your own plans, all your own ideas, your own life, and I will teach you wonderful things and lead you to a glorious place. The discipline of the inner-circle was based on total faith in Christ. Doesn’t mean there wasn’t curiosity, questioning, even disagreements and arguments. We know that there were all of these things, in the inner circle. But the bottom line always was: Jesus is the Master, and the rest of us are disciples.

Judas broke away from this inner-sanctum of discipline. Let’s take a lesson and not do that. Let’s embrace the great gift of the next three days, the gift of the Sacred Triduum, for what it is: An invitation into the inner-circle of intimacy with Jesus Christ. He demands that we follow Him very closely through a confusing, mystifying maze of events. He demands that we spend an awful lot of time in church. Listening, watching, reflecting, praying. Letting go of our lives, and putting ourselves altogether in His hands.

If we obey; if we follow; if we stay inside His circle, He will fulfill in us what He promised to the original Twelve. He will teach us wonderful things and lead us to a glorious place.

Approaching the Altar

When the Lord Jesus referred to “the altar” in the Sermon on the Mount, He meant the altar of the Old Covenant, since He had not yet inaugurated the New Covenant in His Blood.

The altar of the Old Covenant, though, and that of the New, have this in common:

We approach it as the place of peace and communion with Almighty God.

Approaching the altar pertains to the practice of religion per se, to the basic life of a human being. The altar stands as the point where we meet God, having stepped up, out of the ordinary into the grand and everlasting.

And the point the Lord makes about coming to the altar in peace and harmony with my fellowman: this point binds us all at all times.

The priest has the special privilege of physically kissing the altar with his own lips. But this represents what we all do when we assist at Holy Mass with faith and devotion. The priest’s kiss symbolizes our emergence together from the confusing rough and tumble of ordinary life into the realm of permanence and truth.

To kiss another human being with anything less than pure intentions is to disrespect and demean that person. How much more, then, must our hearts rest tranquilly in the truth when we approach the altar? How could we kiss the altar honestly if we walked into the church having lied, cheated, taken advantage of someone, torn someone down? How could we give such a kiss if we had so much as honked the car horn impatiently at anyone?

I hate to put it this way, but don’t we run the terrifying risk of kissing the altar like Judases? He kissed Christ with his lips, but not his heart.

The altar does not stand to cater to our convenience. We stand to serve the Master to Whom we offer our service at the altar. He reigns as Lord; we beg as desperate suitors. May we beg His favor with honest words and humble hearts.

Spy Wednesday

When Satan betrayed God, he thought he had good reason.

After all, Satan was the Light Bearer, pre-eminent among the shining angels, resplendent in intelligence and power.

When the Lord revealed that everything had been made for the sake of the glorified worms who pad around the earth on goofy-looking feet…When the Infinite let on that He would unite Himself with a chickpea-chewing, hairy-backed carpenter made of clay—well, Lucifer could not let that stand.

Continue reading “Spy Wednesday”