Now on the first day of the Feast of the Unleavened Bread the disciples came to Jesus, saying to Him, "Where do You want us to prepare for You to eat the Passover?" And He said, "Go into the city to a certain man, and say to him, 'The Teacher says, "My time is at hand; I will keep the Passover at your house with My disciples."'" So the disciples did as Jesus had directed them; and they prepared the Passover.
When evening had come, He sat down with the twelve. Now as they were eating, He said, "Assuredly, I say to you, one of you will betray Me." And they were exceedingly sorrowful, and each of them began to say to Him, "Lord, is it I?" He answered and said, "He who dipped his hand with Me in the dish will betray Me. The Son of Man indeed goes just as it is written of Him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been good for that man if he had not been born." Then Judas, who was betraying Him, answered and said, "Rabbi, is it I?" He said to him, "You have said it."
- Matthew 26:17-25
In our current readings, Jesus is in Jerusalem and it is Holy Week. He has just been speaking to the disciples about end times, the time of His Second Coming and of Judgment. He gave the Parable of the Wise and Foolish Virgins, and the Parable of the Talents to illustrate the basis for Judgment. He spoke to the disciples about "the least of these My brethren" and how their treatment determines Judgment. Yesterday, we read that when Jesus had finished all these sayings, that He said to His disciples, "You know that after two days is the Passover, and the Son of Man will be delivered up to be crucified." Then the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders of the people assembled at the palace of the high priest, who was called Caiaphas, and plotted to take Jesus by trickery and kill Him. But they said, "Not during the feast, lest there be an uproar among the people." And when Jesus was at Bethany at the house of Simon the leper, a woman came to Him having an alabaster flask of very costly fragrant oil, and she poured it on His head as He sat at the table. But when His disciples saw it, they were indignant, saying, "Why this waste? For this fragrant oil might have been sold for much and given to the poor." But when Jesus was aware of it, He said to them, "Why do you trouble the woman? For she has done a good work for Me. For you have the poor with you always, but Me you do not have always. For in pouring this fragrant oil on My body, she did it for My burial. Assuredly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is preached in the whole world, what this woman has done will also be told as a memorial to her." Then one of the twelve, called Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and said, "What are you willing to give me if I deliver Him to you?" And they counted out to him thirty pieces of silver. So from that time he sought opportunity to betray Him.
Now on the first day of the Feast of the Unleavened Bread the disciples came to Jesus, saying to Him, "Where do You want us to prepare for You to eat the Passover?" And He said, "Go into the city to a certain man, and say to him, 'The Teacher says, "My time is at hand; I will keep the Passover at your house with My disciples."'" So the disciples did as Jesus had directed them; and they prepared the Passover. The Passover, as my study bible explains, commemorates God's deliverance of Israel from slavery in Egypt to the Land of Promise. It prefigures Jesus' Passion (Pascha in the Greek, from Hebrew Pesach), which is the new Passover, God's redemption of all humanity from sin and death, giving entrance into the promised Kingdom. It is debated as to whether the first day of the Feast is Passover or the day before. But clearly Jesus indicates this meal with His disciples to be the Passover meal.
When evening had come, He sat down with the twelve. Now as they were eating, He said, "Assuredly, I say to you, one of you will betray Me." And they were exceedingly sorrowful, and each of them began to say to Him, "Lord, is it I?" He answered and said, "He who dipped his hand with Me in the dish will betray Me. The Son of Man indeed goes just as it is written of Him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been good for that man if he had not been born." Then Judas, who was betraying Him, answered and said, "Rabbi, is it I?" He said to him, "You have said it." Jesus says, "The Son of Man indeed goes just as it is written of Him . . . " That it is written of Him does not cancel Judas' responsibility here, says my study bible. Prophecy is a revelation of God's foreseeing knowledge of evil, but cannot be the cause of the evil actions of human beings. We have free will to make such choices, as does Judas. My study bible says that Jesus lets Judas accuse himself here, but even hearing that Christ knows about his deception, Judas does not repent.
What is repentance? Once again, Judas seems to show that his failure as a disciple is rooted in a lack of humility. Although it is clear that Jesus knows what he's thinking of doing, Judas still does not "come clean." He does not go before Christ openly and repentantly in order to speak of what is in his heart. Some say that even after the betrayal, Judas' great failure is lack of repentance, his failure to return to the disciples and Christ and ask for forgiveness. Whatever the answer to that mystery, it is clear that Judas in his betrayal is no longer a disciple, nor longer capable of the necessary humility to put everything before the Teacher and take instruction, including a rebuke. Trust and faith are absent. Interestingly, Jesus knows what Judas is up to, but does not rebuke him. The fear and loathing of the apostles for such an act, one would think, would make it clear enough what betrayal means. But Judas is determined to do what he would do. It's very hard to return from the kind of indignation one might perhaps imagine is motivating Judas. He chastised the woman for "wasting" her bottle of expensive perfume with which she anointed Jesus. (At Christ's time, this would have been a kind of ointment, as the base for the finest perfume was a very pure olive oil that gave no scent of its own.) In return Jesus chastised those who criticized the woman. We're told by John that Judas was greedy, in fact a thief, and that what motivated his criticism of the woman was the fact that Judas would steal from the collection box for the poor, of which he had charge. But it is Judas' inability to repent here that really betrays the betrayer, so to speak. It gives us a vivid example of what lack of humility does; he's lost in his anger, and no longer is capable of being a disciple, a "learner," as the word means in Greek. If we examine what seems to be in Judas' mind, we see an incapacity for changing his mind, rethinking his desire and his decision. It is a failure to have the ability turn around, to reconsider. And this is the deepest failing we make, the root of all others, and of great sin. Our Teacher is One who forgives, and He is always awaiting our return to Him, our capacity to reconsider -- to repent, turn around. The stumbling block that stands in the way of a return to the Teacher is lack of humility. Perhaps this is why humility is considered the greatest of all virtues. It is a sign of faith, love, and trust in God's love. It keeps us on the straight and narrow, it leads us back to prayer, back again to ask for help and for guidance and instruction. When we're lost in indignation, when we feel we have been involuntarily humiliated, then we may be in the gravest danger of all, because then is when true humility becomes very hard. In the false thinking that bad judgment would impose, it would seem that humility is a further injustice, even a punishment. But it is God's love before which we are humble. The treasure of grace we receive is made accessible through the kind of humility we are asked to bear. It is a circle of love and good instruction we would enter through such practice. We note also that the rebuke of Christ is one that came in front of the other disciples, and in favor of this humble woman. In this particular consideration, we also have to keep in mind Jesus' warnings about those who would prefer the praise of men to the praise of God. It's one more instruction in humility, a willingness to appear out of favor, even in misfortune, before the world -- and for the love of God. Jesus will give us the supreme example of that kind of humility in the Crucifixion. He will follow the Father's will even to death and the contempt of the leadership and the people. This serves as the reverse of Judas, the great thing necessary he lacked as disciple, and it will be the first fruit, the inspiration for all who will follow Christ into this true way of doing battle with evil. We make a discernment between humiliation (what others may do) and humility (our total commitment to discipleship in faith to God). We may bear the one in truth and dignity, as Jesus will do, only in proportion to our faith in the other. This is the power of God's justice. It is the recipe for a truly successful life. Without humility, we cannot serve and we do not know what "spiritual battle" really means or is. Let us remember the example of Judas and his failure, his incapacity, for reconsideration and humility before the Teacher -- and what calamitous result it brings.