The Gospel. St. John 13. 1.
Now before the feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour was come that he should depart out of this world unto the Father, having loved his own which were in the world, he loved them unto the end. And the supper being ended, the devil having now put into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray him; Jesus knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he was come from God, and went to God: he riseth from the supper, and laid aside his garments; and took a towel, and girded himself. After that he poureth water into a basin, and began to wash the disciples feet, and to wipe them with the towel wherewith he was girded. Then cometh he to Simon Peter. And Peter saith unto him: Lord, dost thou wash my feet? Jesus answered him: If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with me. Simon Peter saith unto him: Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head. Jesus saith to him: He that is washed needeth not save to wash his feet, but is clean every whit. And ye are clean, but not all. For he knew who should betray him; therefore said he: Ye are not all clean. So after he had washed their feet, and had taken his garments, and was set down again, he said unto them, Know ye what I have done to you? Ye call me Master and Lord: and ye say well; for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you.
As Catholic Christians, we call many things into remembrance on this night. We remember Our Lord’s Institution of the Eucharist. We remember his impending Passion, his trial, his suffering, and ultimately, his Death on the Cross. And we remember the betrayal that was the starting point, if you will, for the chain of events that would lead to the Crucifixion of Christ.
And we also know the characters that were included in this “Passion play”. We know, for example that St. Peter would deny his Lord three times before the dawn broke; we know as well as all the other disciples who could not even stay awake with Jesus as he prayed in the garden. Tonight, I wish to focus on that other character who played a most crucial part in Our Lord’s Passion. I wish to focus on Judas Iscariot.
Now this no doubt might seem odd, to focus on the one who so heinously betrayed the Messiah; the one who went to the authorities to tell them when and where they might apprehend this Jesus of Nazareth without any trouble; the one who had been with Jesus almost from the beginning; had witnessed any number of miracles; heard nearly all of Jesus’ sermons and parables; had listened to the explanations of all the teachings of Our Lord. And yet he had given Jesus up to those who, Judas had to know, wished to murder him.
So why focus on that one person who, in spite of all this experience, had chosen instead to betray God’s Anointed One? Well, it is because on this night in particular, we must remember all the mistakes that Judas committed, and how we must endeavor to avoid those same mistakes; lest we become more closely identified with the betrayer than we are with Christ.
So who was this Judas Iscariot? Well, Scripture tells us very little about his background. We know, from his surname “Iscariot”, that he likely came from a city called “Kerioth”; and this fact alone would have set him apart from the other Apostles because they were all Galileans, while he was from Judah. We also know that he was tasked to carry the purse that was used to purchase food and supplies for the traveling mission; which implies at least some initial level of trust on the part of the other Apostles.
Beyond that, all we know is that the Gospel authors are uniformly unsympathetic to Judas Iscariot, and most references to him are made with the qualifier “he who would betray him”. Indeed, as early as in the sixth chapter of St. John’s Gospel, Our Lord seems to call out his betrayer: “Jesus answered them, Have not I chosen you twelve, and one of you is a devil? He spake of Judas Iscariot the son of Simon; for he it was that should betray him…” (John 6:70&71).
So we all know that Judas did indeed betray Christ. But why would he do it? What could have been his motivation? Well, here too, we are given some clues; Luke 22:3 says “Then entered Satan into Judas, surnamed Iscariot…”. Likewise as we heard tonight from St. John, “the devil having now put into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray him“.
OK, so maybe Judas can just use that old line, “the devil made me do it”? Well, possibly, but let me pose to you another reason; a reason couched more in human nature, a reason born of a dangerous mistake to which we are all susceptible; he didn’t know who Jesus was. Or at least, he did not fully believe it.
Now as I pointed out before, this seems hardly believable; since Judas was witness to so much of Our Lord’s ministry he couldn’t possibly have missed the fact that this was someone very special to God. But in spite of all this, Judas still did not fully believe. Worse, he allowed this unbelief to fester, which in turn caused him to submit to his baser human nature. And this manifested itself in a desire for money; St. John tells us that Judas was stealing from the group’s purse; so it is not impossible to believe that he saw his betrayal as an opportunity to make a quick buck.
So the stage was set for the Last Supper. It is at this time that Judas Iscariot really makes his most deadly mistakes; and tragically, they are all based in the same reoccurring mistake; he didn’t know who Jesus was. Or at least, he did not fully believe it.
We all know what happened at that Last Supper. Jesus took the bread, broke it, and gave it to his disciples telling them, “THIS IS MY BODY”; and he also blessed the cup and said “THIS IS MY BLOOD”. And they all ate and drank. ALL. INCLUDING JUDAS. He was among the FIRST to receive the BODY and BLOOD of Christ and STILL, he did not believe.
I remind you of the words of St. Paul, “For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body” (1 Corinthians 11:29). Judas ate and drank, not believing, not discerning what he heard from Our Lord’s own lips. He did not believe that he was receiving the Body and Blood of Christ. He had a chance here to change his heart, but he failed. And so he ate and drank to his damnation.
Yet in spite of this, Judas had a second chance; the Maundy. After the supper the Son of God himself takes up a towel and a bowel of water and washes the feet of his disciples, as if he were little more than a lowly servant. He even tells them, “He that is washed needeth not save to wash his feet, but is clean every whit“. But even here, Our Lord knows that Judas has failed to perceive what has taken place, and he says, “ye are clean, but not all.”.
Judas had received the Body and Blood of Christ, and he had been washed by Our Lord himself, but still he did not believe. Jesus even gave Judas one last chance, asking, “Know ye what I have done to you?” No, sadly, he did not; and so Judas leaves to carry out his terrible task; forever cementing his place in infamy.
Of course, we also know what happens next. Too late, Judas realized what he had done. Too late, he understands the magnitude of his actions (Then Judas, which had betrayed him, when he saw that he was condemned, repented himself…, saying, I have sinned in that I have betrayed the innocent blood))[Matthew 27:3 &4]. Too late, it becomes clear to him that he has committed a crime so heinous, that he knows he is beyond pardon. He believes that he is beyond redemption. In his hopelessness he casts the thirty pieces of silver down at the feet of the High Priest, and he goes out and commits suicide.
his is the last and most grievous mistake made by Judas Iscariot. He had been washed by Christ himself. He had received the Body and Blood of God Incarnate. And yet still, he believed that he was beyond redemption. Sadly, in the end, this was the only thing that Judas truly believed.
We cannot, we must not make that mistake. On this night, as we recall Our Lord’s Institution of the Holy Eucharist, as we approach the altar, be sure that we do so worthily; properly discerning, positively KNOWING, that what we receive here is Christ’s Holy Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity. Let us remember that by this Precious Gift, we are washed and made clean. And let us also remember that even though, through our sins, we too have betrayed Christ all too often, still we must believe, because God believes, that we are not beyond redemption. And as we look toward tomorrow, that horrible day of Our Lord’s agony and death, let us also give thanks that our Salvation has been won for us by his Sacrifice; the same Sacrifice that is re-presented to us here tonight.