Judas the Ideologue

Judas Iscariot was Jesus’ treasurer. He must have been smart, competent, and trustworthy. To paraphrase Groucho Marx, he was the brains of the organization. But he proved to be more than a typical accountant. He was also an ideologue.

In Mark 14:10-11, which takes place after Jesus and the disciples arrive in Jerusalem, Judas plots with the chief priests of the Sanhedrin to hand over his beloved teacher for twenty silver pieces. The reason? According to Luke 22:3, Satan “entered into” Judas. While I do not dismiss this at all, it begs explanation. Just which door or window did Judas leave unlocked that allowed Satan to enter?

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The answer appears immediately before in Mark 14:3-9, the anointing at Bethany. This tells the story of a woman who approached Jesus “with an alabaster jar of perfumed oil, costly genuine spikenard. She broke the alabaster jar and poured it on his [Jesus’] head” (14:3). Bethany was two miles from Jerusalem, the final stop before Jesus’ triumphal entry into the city on what we now celebrate as Palm Sunday.

A common theme in Jesus’ preaching during the journey from Galilee to Jerusalem had been money, perhaps best exemplified in the story of the “rich young man” who was unable to renounce his riches and follow Jesus, because “he had many possessions” (Mt 19:22). Money also figured in the stories of the widow’s mite (Mk 12:41-44), paying taxes to Caesar (Mt 22:15-22), and the rich man (dives) and Lazarus (Lk 16:19-31).

The disciples, therefore, were shocked to find that Jesus not only let the woman waste the oil but defended her action. They became “indignant” (Mk 14:4) and “infuriated” (Mk 14:5), arguing that the oil could have been sold and the money, the equivalent of a year’s wages, given to the poor.

“Let her alone. Why do you make trouble for her? She has done a good thing for me,” (Mk 14:6) Jesus chides them. Then he adds, “The poor you will always have with you…but you will not always have me” (Mk 14:7).

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This sends Judas over the edge, especially when Jesus notes that the woman’s act will be told everywhere in “memory of her” (Mk 14:9). He goes directly to the chief priests to plot Jesus’ betrayal. For him, there could be no other way. Jesus’ act of betrayal had to be met with equal force. Tooth for tooth, nail for nail, betrayal for betrayal.

This is the posture and personality of someone so caught up in himself that he forgets that people, not ideology, are at the center of the struggle. Judas probably viewed anyone who rejected his ideological beliefs as an enemy. Ironically, this included Jesus, who, as leader of the movement (it would be called the “Way” by the time of Saul’s conversion), had committed the greatest betrayal.

Ideologues, like the poor, will always be with us. They are part of our collective psyche. Today, they are as present as ever. They are emboldened to commit acts of violence in the name of peace, racism in the name of equality, lies in the name of truth, and tyranny in the name of liberty. They are idolaters who worship everything from Marxism to markets in an effort to redefine reality in their own image. They not only attack each other but those of us who simply yearn for something better like peace. And civil discourse.

Judas betrayed Jesus, because he believed his mission was greater than one man. Caiaphas, the high priest who conspired with him, believed it was better that one man should die rather than “the whole nation perish” (Jn 11:50). These men were opposed yet the same.

God save us from ideologues.

Haven’t had enough? Go to Robert Brancatelli.

Note to self: Never write like this: “The move stems from a desire to remain competitive and accessible in a perpetually evolving publishing landscape.” Flickr image “Judas” by Rev. Lawrence Lew, OP. Used under Creative Commons. No alterations.

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