Today's reading is over Mark 15; however, in this devotional thought I want to explore an intriguing insight from Mark 14. Sometimes people wonder why Judas would betray Jesus and hand him over to the authorities. What would cause him to do such a sinful and also such a self-destructive thing? Didn't Judas remember Jesus' pronouncement that the person who betrays him would not fare well? Jesus says it would be better for that person if he had not even been born (Mark 14:18-21). Yet even with such a dire warning, Judas moves forward with his betrayal of God's son. Why?
The other Gospels give us some insights here. First, Jesus notes in John 6:69-71 that Judas is an evil man ["a devil"] and not a true follower. Luke 22:3 and John 13:27 tell us that Satan actually entered Judas at the Last Supper. So we know that there was something terribly wrong with Judas and it appears that he had no intention of staying with Jesus long term. Still, I think one could argue that there was a specific interaction that especially irritated Judas and which prompted him to want to do Jesus harm.
If we compare John 12:4-8 with Mark 14:4-11, we can see two important puzzle pieces fit together. First, the John passage reveals that Judas appears to be the main antagonist among those who were upset that an expensive perfume was "wasted" to annoint Jesus. In John's account it was Judas who self-righteously complained that the perfume should have been sold and the proceeds given to the poor. (John tells us, however, Judas was merely grandstanding. In actuality, he had been pilfering money from the funds that were intended for the poor.)
In Matthew 26, Mark 14, and John 12, we read that Jesus publicly defended the woman who anointed him with expensive perfume. Indeed, his defense of her was strong. In Mark 12:6 Jesus says, "Leave her alone; why do you bother her? She has done a good deed to Me." This is quite a rebuke and it appears that Judas did not take this correction well. For in Mark 12:10 it says, "Then Judas Iscariot, who was one of the twelve, went off to the chief priests in order to betray Him to them." Notice the word that starts this sentence, THEN. It was immediately after the Lord's rebuke that Judas made contact with Jesus' enemies.
One might summarize this episode in the following steps: 1) A woman anoints Jesus with expensive perfume. 2) Judas and some other disciples verbally chastise the woman for wasting money, insisting that she should have sold the perfume and given the proceeds to the disciples so that they could then distribute it to the poor. (Judas was probably the lead instigator of this complaint and may have worked up the other disciples against the woman.) 3) Jesus strongly rebukes Judas and the other accusers, reminding them that they can always give to the poor and that the woman has actually performed a noble service. 4) Because of his public rebuke, Judas becomes angry and decides to get back at Jesus by selling him out to the Jewish leaders. In sum, Jesus' correction of Judas triggered his decision to finally set his plan in motion---to betray Jesus and profit from his capture.
While it's impossible to totally prove this theory, there's no doubt we can learn a lesson here. When someone criticizes us or tells us we have made a mistake, how should we respond? Do we react like Judas? Do we get angry and desire to get back at that person? Or instead, do we respond with humility and self-reflection, trying to discover how we can learn from the experience? This is an important question for us to consider in our daily walk. Indeed, our ultimate hope should be to get to a place in our relationship with Christ where we actually seek out the Lord's correction. As King David puts it so poetically in Psalm 139:23-24 (NLT).
"Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life."
This is the type of spiritual maturity that God is calling us towards. Below is a painting by Carl Bloch. It portrays Judas (at the bottom right) turning his back to Jesus and the other disciples as he leaves the Last Supper in order to betray the Lord. Let each of us be on guard against the "Judas Trigger," for it leads us away from our Master and on to our own destruction.