Da Vinci’s famous mural, The Last Supper, still graces the wall of a Dominican convent in Italy. He painted it with materials that wouldn’t last; it’s been restored numerous times. And as if that weren’t enough, sometime after the masterpiece was painted, someone decided that the room needed a door on that wall–forever eliminating Jesus’ feet. (Art critic.)
This is not, of course, how the scene would actually have looked; for one thing, the disciples should be reclining on couches in the Roman fashion. But Da Vinci was trying to capture the human drama of the moment that Jesus dropped his verbal bombshell. The disciples were shocked and saddened. Matthew suggests that each was filled with self-doubt: was it possible to be a traitor and not know it? One by one, they asked Jesus, “Surely you don’t mean me, Lord?” (Matt 26:22, NIV).
Notice: nobody pointed a finger at Judas. He was “one of the Twelve” (Matt 26:14), a trusted friend. After all they had been through together, could any of them have imagined the treacherous things Judas had already done? The chief priests, who were looking for some way to rid themselves of Jesus without risking a revolt from the throngs of pilgrims in Jerusalem, needed someone on the inside. Judas volunteered, on his own initiative. The chief priests must have been thrilled. Perhaps they even considered it a godsend.
Why did Judas do it? Some say he was a bitter and disappointed revolutionary. Some say he sold Jesus out to save his own skin. Some say he got impatient and tried to force Jesus’ hand: Surely he won’t let himself get arrested! Then we’ll get some action! And John tells us that Satan had a role to play as well (John 13:27).
But Matthew says Judas did it for the money.
He was, after all, the one who complained about Mary of Bethany’s terrible waste of perfume on Jesus’ feet: For cryin’ out loud, doesn’t she know how much this stuff costs? He piously says that the money could have been given to the poor; John says Judas was a sneak-thief who was pilfering from the money bag (John 12:4-6). So yes, greed was certainly one of Judas’ motivations, even if it wasn’t the only one.
But what a mundane, awful reason for betraying the Lord of glory. I like the other explanations better; they at least add a little depth and grandeur to the story, albeit of an evil nature. How gauche of Judas to be motivated by money.
Judas: one of the Twelve. The way Matthew says it, the name of the betrayer seems secondary. What matters is that Jesus was betrayed by someone in his inner circle. And that the deed was done for such a mundane reason as greed.
The next time I celebrate the Lord’s Supper, I will have to ask the question: how could anybody who is a friend of Jesus sin against him? Who would do such a thing? And for such simple, stupid, selfish reasons?