Certain elements of the Passion narrative push forward in relief for me as I mull over a story I’m writing (Saint Judas).
In listening to the Passion narrative from the Gospel of Saint Matthew on Palm Sunday, my ears tripped over the strangeness of the way Jesus addresses Judas at the time of the arrest in the garden:
Jesus answered him, “Friend, do what you have come for.” (Matthew 26:50)
I wondered why Jesus chose, at this moment, to address Judas as friend.
So I looked a bit deeper. In Saint Jerome’s Vulgate, the Latin word is indeed amice:
Jesus said to him, “Friend, why are you here?”
Iesus autem dixit illi: “Amice, ad quod venisti!”
The footnotes in the Navarre Bible Commentary on this passage gave me ample material for meditation:
Jesus again demonstrates that he is giving himself up of his own free will. He could have asked his Father to send angels to defend him, but he does not do so. He knows why this is all happening and he wants to make it quite clear that in the last analysis it is not force which puts him to death but his own love and his desire to fulfil his Father’s will.
His opponents fail to grasp Jesus’ supernatural way of doing things; he had done his best to teach them but their hardness of heart came in the way and prevented them from accepting his teaching.
To effect his betrayal Judas uses a sign of friendship and trust. Although he knows what Judas is about, Jesus treats him with great gentleness: he gives him a chance to open his heart and repent. This is a lesson to show us that we should respect even people who harm us and should treat them with a refined charity.
I might have expected Jesus to be turned over to the authorities by one of the Pharisees or Saducees, rather than one of the Twelve. But from another point of view, it is fitting that one of the Twelve would be involved. The behavior of Judas brings into sharpest relief the drama taking place: not simply an arrest, but a betrayal. This is the pattern of all sin: The stubborn and cruel rejection of a Heart opened to us in trust and love. In Judas, we can discern our own refusals to accept God as He is and our own hypocrisies writ large: a cautionary tale, an anti-Annunciation.
Bishop Robert Barron put it well in one of his Holy Week meditations:
Those of us who regularly gather around the table of intimacy with Christ and yet engage consistently in the works of darkness are meant to see ourselves in the betrayer.
What sets us apart from Judas is not our worthiness but our capacity to hope.
May the meditation on the character of Judas this week lead us to emulate Peter, who, when confronted with his own weakness and betrayal, does not spiral into a paralyzing despair. When brought to the end of his own devices, Peter holds fast to hope and finds the grace to receive what is on offer.