Then Satan entered into Judas called Iscariot, who was one of the twelve; he went away and conferred with the chief priests and officers of the temple police about how he might betray him to them. They were greatly pleased and agreed to give him money. So he consented and began to look for an opportunity to betray him to them when no crowd was present.
[Luke 22:3-6 New Revised Standard Version]
I’m borrowing a reflection today from the prolific Fred Buechner, the author of Peculiar Treasures, a Biblical Who’s Who. In this book, Buechner profiles 125 of the Bible’s most holy and profane people, including Judas Iscariot, the disciple who betrayed Jesus.
Though Buechner doesn’t make reference to this, I call the reader’s attention tp the return of Satan, whom we should remember from Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness, when, as Luke’s gospel mentioned, he left Jesus “until an opportune time.” That opportune time has come. The rest of what follows is from Buechner:
Nobody can be sure, of course, why Judas sold Jesus out although according to John’s gospel, he already had a reputation for dipping in the poor box from time to time so the cash may have been part of it. If, like the other disciples, he was perennially worried about where he stood in the pecking order, he may also have been reacting to some imagined slight. Maybe he thought his job as treasurer to the outfit was beneath him. Another possibility is that he had gotten fed up with waiting for Jesus to take the world by storm and hoped that betraying him might force him to show his hand at last. Or maybe, because nothing human is ever uncomplicated, something of all of these was involved. Anyway, whatever his reasons were, the whole thing went sour for him soon enough.
Slipping out of the last supper before the party was over, he led the way to the garden that he knew they were planning to adjourn to afterwards and said to lay low till he gave the signal. It as dark by the time his former associates showed up and maybe for fear that he might scare them off if he used any other method, the way he showed the solders which was the one to jump was by kissing him. That was all he’d been paid to, and as soon as he’d done it, there was no earthly reason why he couldn’t have taken off with his laundered cash and found a place to spend it. But when the time came, he wasn’t in the mood.
There are several versions of what he did instead, of which the most psychologically plausible seems to be that he gave the money back to the ones who’d given it to him and went out and hanged himself. This time there doesn’t seem to be any ambiguity about the motive.
There is a tradition in the early church, however, that his suicide was based not on despair but on hope. If God was just, then he knew there was no question where he would be heading as soon as he’d breathed his last. Furthermore, if God was also merciful, he knew there was no question either that in a last-ditch effort to save the souls of the damned as God’s son, Jesus would be down there too. Thus the way Judas figured it, Hell might be the last chance he’d have of making it to Heaven, so to get there as soon as possible, he tied the rope around his neck and kicked away the stool. Who knows?
In any case, it’s a scene to conjure with. Once again they met in the shadows, the two old friends, both of them a little worse for wear after all that had happened, only this time it was Jesus who was the one to give the kiss, and this time it wasn’t the kiss of death that was given.
—from Peculiar Treasures, a Biblical Who’s Who, pp. 92-94