What Will You Give Me?

Then went one of the twelve, who was called Judas Iscariot, to the chief priests, and said to them: What will you give me, and I will deliver him unto you? But they appointed him thirty pieces of silver. And from thenceforth he sought opportunity to betray him (Mt. 26:14-16).

J. S. Bach, St. Matthew’s Passion

Bleed now, loving heart! Ah! A child, whom you reared, that sucked at your breast, is threatening to murder its guardian, for that child has become a serpent.

“What will you give me,” Judas asks the chief priests, if I betray my Lord?

As the librettist reminds us, Judas, like all men, is a child of God, utterly dependent on a loving Providence from his first microscopic appearance to his eternal glory or misery.

Compared to this, what can a few men, “dress’d in a little brief authority,” have to offer?

As with our Lord’s temptation in the desert, the devil attempts to leverage his foothold in the hearts of the rulers of “the kingdoms of the world” (Mt. 4:8) to wrest our allegiance from the one and only Lord of heaven and earth.

Considered dispassionately, Judas’s error is so evident as to stagger us with its absurdity. Yet it is the same mistake we make, and repeat, each time we commit a sin, of whatever weight and for whatever motive.

When Judas realizes his error, he attempts to repent, but his contrition ends in despair and eternal death (Mt 27:3-5). As betrayers of the Lord ourselves, we do well to consider not only how Judas went wrong in the first instance, but also in the last.

Judas’s penitence fails because he addresses it to the wrong ears. The men who induced him to sin in the first place have no love for him, for the Lord, or even for their own (true) selves.

As sinners, the only way we can do better than Judas is to return humbly to the One who has loved and still loves us, and promises to free us from our infidelity to him.

For betraying our Lord, the world will give us, at most, a place to bury our bones. When we admit our betrayal and acknowledge our dependence on him, Christ promises us something the world can never give: eternal redemption.

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