by HG Yuhanon Mar Meletius
Good Friday in Orthodox terminology is, 'Friday of Passion'. It is a day when unusual things happened in history. It was a day "God died" for the sake of His creation. Of course, the incarnation of God itself was a great mysterious event. Passion and death was even greater mystery. The whole day was filled with events right from the eve and it lasted several hours. So much have been said and written about those events. My attempt is not to write some thing new, rather just to bring back to our memory the way one of Jesus' own disciples behaved on that day so us to meditate on.
Judas Iscariot, one of the disciples of Jesus conspired with the high priests and leaders of the community to identify Jesus in the crowd so that they could arrest him. Things happened as planned and there was not much resistance from the part of Jesus. The temple guards arrested him, tried him at night itself and later in the morning he was brought to the court of the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate. Though he found no proven charge in him, due to mounting pressure, he sentenced Jesus to death on the cross. Judas may not have expected the events to take such a course. Judas felt so bad and cried aloud saying, "I have sinned by betraying innocent blood." (Matt. 27:4). It is hard for us now to assess the heaviness of his heart. He may have felt terrible. He may have cursed himself so much that he had to do some thing to get out of it. He certainly may have been at the verge of going crazy.� This feeling led him to give up all that he gained. He certainly wanted to end his life, and that is what he finally did.
Does the story end there? I am afraid not. It is a story still being re-enacted even today. The characters may change, time may have passed, context may be different, and amount paid may be larger. But the events replay on a daily basis. Of course those who play the character of Judas would change, but they would never say what he said at the end. �I wish to present few questions in this regard before myself and my fellow believers, in this regard, to better understand the event in perspective.
The first question is, who has done this betrayal? It was Judas one of the twelve disciples of Jesus who did this. The Apostles were given authority over unclean spirits (Mk. 6:7). Unclean spirit makes lives of people unclean and force them do unclean things. The power over unclean spirits was God's gift to make His creation clean and holy. However, Judas did not use that power, instead surrendered to the power of the unclean spirit (Luke 22:3). We need to put this in perspective. At the time of baptism, we pledge before the holy altar and before the congregation that we shall not submit to the power of evil. But what are we doing now in our lives in this world? Just think for a moment. We do not overpower the satanic tendencies of hatred, rivalry, luxury, ego clash, love of money and riches, breach of peace so on and so forth. Hence we are not able to send out the unclean spirit in us, in our society and even in our Churches. With these in our lives, are we not betraying the innocent blood poured on the cross? Do we ever say, "I have sinned by betraying the innocent blood?" Mahatma Gandhi said, "But for these Christians, I would have long become a Christian."
The second question is, what did Judas do for him to say I have sinned? It is reported that "Judas went to the chief priests in order to betray him." (Mk 14:10). Judas was with Jesus and became a member of the close circle of Jesus. They had nothing in common with the chief priests and leaders of the Jewish community. On the contrary they had to observe them and do just the opposite (Mtt. 16:6). Jesus was called a teacher just as they called the leaders of the Jewish community. But then some one saw the difference and called Jesus 'the good teacher' (Matt. 19:16). His disciples were supposed to be sharing this nature. But Judas could not. He associated himself with those whom he should not be befriending with. Have we ever thought about our kind of friendship circle? Judas' betrayal begins with his participation in the plot of the priests of the Jewish community. It was that unholy alliance that caused the betrayal. Our unholy alliances with unholy people, ideas and things make us betray the Holy one even today. We become friends of those who device plot to kill Jesus. When we do that we become no better people than Judas. The former president of India, Dr. Radhakrishnan said, "Christians are ordinary people who make extra-ordinary claims." The question for today is whom do we align with, who is our dearest friend, what do we like most? It is an important subject to meditate on. A sincere introspection will help us see were we stand.
A third question is, why did he do that? There are Biblical interpreters who argue that Judas was a member of a militant group that worked to liberate Israel from the political regime of Romans and their agents, the priests. Judas thought that Jesus will over throw the unjust Roman dominance and will establish Davidic rule once again in Jerusalem. But he thought Jesus was not doing enough to achieve that goal. So he wanted to give him a push. Judas hoped, if Jesus was caught by the priests, then he would act. But, for Jesus His kingdom was not of this world (John 18:36). It was of different nature. Today we, try to establish our kingdoms in this world and for that we betray our Lord and every thing dear to him. To gain control over others, over worldly riches, authority, power, processions and status, we sacrifice relations, values and principles. Are we trying to continue the tradition of Judas?
The forth question would be, "what did he gain out of his act?" Judas betrayed Jesus just for 30 shekels. That was not a big amount. It was equal to the wage of a person for 30 days (Ref. Matt. 20:2, 13), Of course, for a poor man like Judas, to get a month wage on a single day was a reward. But what would he do once it was over? He did not have another master to betray to receive the same amount every day or every month. Once the precious thing is sold for a limited ransom, the whole fortune is gone. We are reminded of the old story of the killing of the duck that laid golden egg. What do we, the present day disciples do now? For how much we betray our Lord? When we spread hatred, when we break peace and divide our families and communities for petty differences of opinion and for small gains, what is our ultimate gain? In fact we gain nothing, rather we lose everything.
The last question is, what happened to the so called benefit he gained from his act of betrayal? He lost the reward (Matt 27: 5) and even himself. He threw the money he received as ransom in the temple and threw away his own life too on a piece of rope (or according to the testimony in Acts 1:18, he bought a land with the blood money by himself and with his death that became a waste too). Jesus asks, "For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?" (Matt 16:26).
We toil all day and night to make our lives in this world successful and prosperous. We work hard to get control over the lives of others and other things. We labor too much to bring things in our favor. We sweat so much to put our children on the top. In our urge for these, we sacrifice our good relations, values and principles many a time. Finally when we come back after having achieved all these, what awaits is some thing different. The chief priest says, "What is that to us? See to that yourself." At the end, we are left alone with no one around, alienated and abandoned. That is the wage of betrayal; that is suicidal, that is deadly.
Let us stop betraying Him, for material and personal gains. Rather let us confess and say, "We adore and prostrate before the cross, that brought salvation to our race. We pray with that thief on the cross, remember us Oh Lord Messiah at the time of Your arrival." (Friday of Passion Liturgy).
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