The Gospel of our Lord’s Passion which we have just heard began with these words: One of the Twelve, the man called Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and said: What are you prepared to give me if I hand him over to you?
It all begins with a betrayal. It has to begin with a betrayal. Jesus has done nothing wrong so the only way to get him is to betray him. And so he is betrayed, and by one of his own.
No one knows better how to betray than a disciple, one of the trusted. No one knows how to hurt the Church better than an ex-Catholic. St Bernadette Soubirous was once asked what frightened her most and, surprisingly, she answered, ‘A bad Catholic.’
Have you noticed that a seemingly disproportionate number of the world’s great villains of history are former Catholics? Our prisons are full of Catholics; men and women who, by and large, no longer take their faith seriously. They have let it all slip away from them.
What could Judas have been thinking? And all for thirty pieces of silver. What could he have been thinking? What drove him to betray the Master? He probably imagined he had some cause, some reason, but he doesn’t seem to have thought it through.
Many Catholics imagine they are justified leaving: ‘The Church has let them down; the priest was rude to them; fellow Catholics didn’t listen to them; all the religions are the same, all they want is your money….’ But in the end, when all is said and done, it is betrayal of Christ. St Paul’s words in other circumstances (Gal 5:4) can fittingly be applied here: You are separated from Christ … you have fallen from grace.’
Everyone who turns away from Christ loses much more than he can ever hope to win. When Judas realized what he had done all his so-called ‘reasons’ came to nothing and he went out and hanged himself. What unkindness from a priest, what hurt, real or imagined, from a fellow Catholic, could ever justify walking away from Christ?
When they handed him that money, from that moment he became a traitor; from that moment he looked for a way of handing him over. Judas was bought and paid for; no longer free. He had sold himself. He was a slave.
The Gospel sums it up neatly when it tells us that Judas ‘went to the chief priests’; while on the other hand, ‘the disciples came to Jesus.’
Judas asked ‘What will you give me?’ – The disciples asked what can we do for you?
Jesus, from whom nothing can be hidden, is fully aware of Judas’ betrayal and he announces that betrayal to the Apostles, not only to let them know that his time is near but to give Judas a chance to repent. Instead of humbly thinking the matter through and recognizing his mistake Judas continues to pretend: “Not I, Rabbi, surely!” Judas has made up his mind. He no longer loves the Master.
Jesus sets about celebrating the Last Supper and despite the now sinister and ugly presence of the betrayer in their midst there’s a kind of unstoppable serenity in his words. He knows exactly what he’s doing. Judas hears the words of Consecration but is unmoved.
The betrayal of Judas is a betrayal of the Eucharist. Every bad Catholic betrays the Eucharist. First, stops coming to the table.
Jesus speaks of Judas’ betrayal in terms of the Scriptures and now, after supper, he speaks of his disciples’ loss of faith ‘in accordance with the Scriptures’. Peter and the rest of the disciples contradict him; they claim they will never lose faith.
But let us hasten to acknowledge that every betrayal is redeemable. No one ever needs to be lost. The road back to Christ is open to all – to Peter, to the other disciples, and even to Judas.
Jesus must have felt very lonely at that table. On the one hand sits Judas who would betray him and on the other hand sit the disciples who would desert him. Even now they reject his prophetic word, which is, even though they do not realize it, essentially a rejection of Jesus himself, the Word of God.
Judas has now left the community of the disciples. He has become the first bad Catholic. He has betrayed the fellowship, the community of the Lord, the Church.
But Jesus has a work to complete. He heads off to the Garden of Gethsemane, followed by his dazed and disheartened disciples. Let us go too, in all our weakness and hesitation. Perhaps we will, with the Eleven, learn what he wishes to teach us; to become what he wants us to become.