When Judas Lost It
Judas is one of the most tragic figures in the Gospel. It is downright difficult to figure out how someone so closely associated to Christ, who witnessed everything first-hand and at close range, could take the direction he did. Together with the other Apostles, he enjoyed those quiet times with our Lord, those evenings when He would expound upon His parables in ways not given to the common folk, when He would express the desires of His Heart as He formed them for the mission He intended.
Evidently, something drew Judas to Christ early on, and likely with its share of enthusiasm, although perhaps reserved. Any man with a genuine priestly vocation knows what this means; there is an internal attraction to the life that does not have its source with the individual, and this does not go away in spite of (perhaps intentional) efforts to ignore it or do other things.
As our Lord does not make mistakes, His choice of Judas was just as valid as any of the other Apostles. In fact, worthy commentaries indicate that Judas was, from a human standpoint, the most gifted and resourceful of the college. We observe Judas trusted with the common purse, even though Matthew had the financial background (cf. Jn. 13:29). But like any man, he had his predominant fault to deal with. For Judas, it was ambition, but it was not supposed to be the fatal flaw; it was to be mortified and properly directed for God’s glory. Nonetheless, it was eventually given freer reign and would smother any supernatural faith he may have started out with.
So teaming up with Christ to start a kingdom would have been quite the opportunity for a man of Judas’ talent. He would be given power to cast out demons and heal sicknesses in our Lord’s name, something which evidently drew attention to the great work he was involved with (Mk. 3:15). But as our Savior’s popularity began to wane and things started to go sideways with the authorities, Judas would notice that his association with the motley crew may not be so much to his advantage. He began skimming from the purse (Jn. 12:6), something only our Lord would know but never reveal. (As it was, Christ kept Judas’ growing discontent so quiet that none of the Apostles had even the slightest premonition of Judas’ treacherous plan when he left the Last Supper early; they all may have reasonably thought Christ just gave him leave to get more supplies for the Pasch.)
Our Lord became more adamant that His Kingdom was not of this world, and its visible representation on earth – the Church militant – would suffer much persecution through the ages to come. Even at that, the mission was a spiritual one, the redemption from sin. Despite Christ’s promise of heavenly thrones for the Apostles to judge the twelve tribes of Israel, who really believed that and how was this about getting ahead here and now? (Mt. 19:28)
Doubt and frustration began to swell up; turning stones into bread or throwing oneself off pinnacles for angels to catch you would have better results.
Judas’ first break with Christ would be shortly after our Lord spoke of the need to eat His Flesh and drink His Blood in order to have life within (Jn. 6:48 ff.). Judas looked out at the incredulous faces, some who had been a long time with Christ and witnessed His miracles, and watched many of them walk away. It was a bridge too far for him as well. Christ revealed as much when He told the Apostles soon afterwards: Have I not chosen you twelve, and one of you is a devil (Jn. 6:71). From that point on – rejection of the Holy Eucharist, the very food needed for eternal life – the exit strategy began for this Apostle.
This need to depart from Christ’s company would be fortified and confirmed after a woman poured most expensive ointment over our Lord in sorrow for her sins, earning a gentle rebuke from Christ when Judas protested such “extravagant waste” (Jn. 12:1-7).
Ven. Fulton Sheen comments that Judas knew the price of everything and the value of nothing.
Having rejected the Living Bread that has come down from heaven, and now the need of repentance and forgiveness of sin as commended by the woman’s gestures, Judas excluded himself from the very mission of the Church, of Christ’s Kingdom. There was no point to it, or to anything Christ said or did, if he did not believe. He knew many others did not believe either, so it would be better that such a kingdom never happens. He could regain his status in the world by colluding with Christ’s enemies, who had long lost any supernatural faith of their own.
Christ was an inconvenient force that needed to be marginalized, made an example of, and buried for good.
And so goes the demise of Judas, the prototype of any priest or prelate who loses supernatural faith, for what is the life of the priest about if not to offer the Holy Sacrifice and forgive sin? The priest without faith has lost his purpose, and Christ’s message will forever be inconvenient and outdated to the faithless. Nonetheless, the consolation the faithful have is that Christ would have readily forgiven Judas had he only asked, and welcomed him back as easily as He did Peter.
How that should motivate us to pray for all our bishops and priests: some who heroically carry their crosses, others who have lost their way. That should serve well to squelch the Judas in us all.
March 1, 2021