THE TRAITOR’S END
When Judas the traitor saw that Jesus had been condemned, he repented, and he brought the thirty shekels back to the chief priests and the elders. “I have sinned,” he said, “for I have betrayed an innocent man.” “What has that got to do with us?” they said. “It is you who must see to that.” He threw the money into the Temple and went away. And when he had gone away, he hanged himself. The chief priests took the money. “We cannot,” they said, “put these into the treasury, for they are the price of blood.” They took counsel, and bought with them the potter’s field, to be a burying place for strangers. That is why to this day that field is called The Field of Blood. Then there was fulfilled that which was spoken through Jeremiah the prophet, when he said: “And they took the thirty shekels, the price of him on whom a price had been set by the sons of Israel, and they gave them for the field of the potter, as the Lord instructed me.”
Here in all its stark grimness is the last act of the tragedy of Judas. However we interpret his mind, one thing is clear–Judas now saw the horror of the thing that he had done. Matthew tells us that Judas took the money and flung it into the Temple, and the interesting thing is that the word he uses is not the word for the Temple precincts in general (hieron, GSN2411), it is the word for the actual Temple itself (naos, GSN3485). It will be remembered that the Temple consisted of a series of courts each opening off the other. Judas in his blind despair came into the Court of the Gentiles; passed through it into the Court of the Women; passed through that into the Court of the Israelites; beyond that he could not go; he had come to the barrier which shut off the Court of the Priests with the Temple itself at the far end of it. He called on them to take the money; but they would not; and he flung it at them and went away and hanged himself.
And the priests took the money, so tainted that it could not be put into the Temple treasury, and with it bought a field to bury the unclean bodies of Gentiles who died within the city.
The suicide of Judas is surely the final indication that his plan had gone wrong. He had meant to make Jesus blaze forth as a conqueror; instead he had driven him to the Cross and life for Judas was shattered. There are two great truths about sin here.
(i) The terrible thing about sin is that we cannot put the clock back. We cannot undo what we have done. Once a thing is done nothing can alter it or bring it back.
“The Moving Finger writes; and having writ?
Moves on: nor all thy Piety nor Wit
Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
Nor all thy Tears wash out a Word of it.”
No one needs to be very old to have that haunting longing for some hour to be lived over again. When we remember that no action can ever be recalled, it should make us doubly careful how we act.
(ii) The strange thing about sin is that a man can come to hate the very thing he gained by it. The very prize he won by sinning can come to disgust and to revolt and to repel him, until his one desire is to fling it from him. Most people sin because they think that if they can only possess the forbidden thing it will make them happy. But the thing which sin desired can become the thing that a man above all would rid himself of–and so often he cannot.
As we have seen, Matthew finds forecasts of the events of the life of Jesus in the most unlikely places. Here there is, in fact, an actual mistake. Matthew is quoting from memory; and the quotation which he makes is, in fact, not from Jeremiah but from Zechariah. It is from a strange passage (Zech.11:10-14) in which the prophet tells us how he received an unworthy reward and flung it to the potter. In that old picture Matthew saw a symbolic resemblance to the thing that Judas did.
It might have been that, if Judas had remained true to Jesus, he would have died a martyr’s death; but, because he wanted his own way too much, he died by his own hand. He missed the glory of the martyr’s crown to find life intolerable because he had sinned.
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