Blood money

In the previous post, we contrasted the responses of Peter and Judas to the crushing load of guilt they each bore after betraying their Lord.  We can only guess, of course, at their internal experiences.  But Peter’s remorse somehow seems more faithful than Judas’, leading to starkly different outcomes.

How we respond to guilt matters.  And in Matthew’s passion narrative, Peter and Judas aren’t the only cases to consider.

We saw last time how Judas went to the chief priests to return the thirty pieces of silver, saying, “I have sinned, for I have betrayed innocent blood” (Matt 27:4a, NIV).  Obviously, he’s not telling them something they don’t already know.  It’s the confession of a guilty soul in search of some kind of absolution.  Giving the money back might at least be a start.

But it’s hard to imagine a less priestly response than the one he actually got: “What is that to us?  That’s your problem” (vs. 4b, CEB).  The language is vague, but suggests that it was far too late for regrets.  Judas, my boy, this was your idea, remember?  We made a deal, and we’re not taking the money back.  If you want to feel bad about it, well, that’s your business.

And if Judas wanted to kill himself because of what he’d done, well, that was his business too.

Did the chief priests feel no remorse themselves?  They had been jealously hatching a murder plot against Jesus, arresting him without cause, subjecting him to a trial that made a mockery of their own rules of due process.  The case had already been decided before a single false witness even testified.

“That’s your problem”?  Unbelievable.

But then the story continues:

The chief priests picked up the coins and said, “It is against the law to put this into the treasury, since it is blood money.”  So they decided to use the money to buy the potter’s field as a burial place for foreigners.  That is why it has been called the Field of Blood to this day.  (Matt 27:6-8. NIV)

Read by itself, free of context, there’s nothing particularly offensive about this passage.  They were right to view the money as tainted and therefore unfit for the temple treasury.  And the money was put to a good use, one that could even be considered praiseworthy from a religious standpoint.

But in context, the question is unavoidable: if it was so wrong to put the money back into the treasury, why wasn’t it wrong to take it out in the first place?  (Imagine Tony Soprano paying for a hit and then getting squeamish about touching the money when the assassin had an attack of conscience.)

The chief priests, it seemed, suffered from an end-justifies-the-means moral blind spot.  As the self-appointed guardians of the lost sheep of the house of Israel, they had their political house to keep in order.  They could see the blood on the money, but not the blood on their hands.

Or worse: maybe they did see it, albeit vaguely.  I suspect they had a sense of guilt, but quickly and automatically compensated by ramping up their religious scruples.

Hmm.  Who among us would ever do a thing like that?