Then one of the twelve, who was called Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests 15 and said, “What will you give me if I betray him to you?” They paid him thirty pieces of silver.
Matthew 26, 14-15
When Judas, his betrayer, saw that Jesus was condemned, he repented and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders. He said, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.” But they said, “What is that to us? See to it yourself.” Throwing down the pieces of silver in the temple, he departed; and he went and hanged himself. But the chief priests, taking the pieces of silver, said, “It is not lawful to put them into the treasury, since they are blood money.”
Matthew 27, 16
I will be in a performance of Bach’s St. Matthew Passion this month, playing the (tiny) role of one of the high priests. It’s not the first time I have done the piece – I’ve even played this part twice before. But as I prepare for it again, I am struck by how perfectly ordinary the characters seem: Judas, of course, who makes a tragic and probably impulsive move, motivated by jealousy and ambition, and regrets it, but too late to help Jesus or himself. But also the priests in this exchange: being instrumental in Judas’s betrayal—possibly even instigating it—but seemingly unwilling to acknowledge their own role in what has happened, and instead dismissing Judas contemptuously.
How sadly typical this is—even if the circumstances are (hopefully!) more extreme than any of us ever has to deal with: how often have we nudged or encouraged someone to doing something unwise but left them to deal with the mess themselves? Made a political choice or otherwise participated in a group action that, when viewed from a broader perspective, could only lead to consequences that we’d rather not think about? Judged others for making an unwise but understandably desperate decision that turns out badly? I don’t think it takes a lot of creativity to see current-day parallels.
As Luis points out, the Pharisees and high priests were upstanding, observant members of their community. The tragedy and immediacy of the Passion is that all the villains are so like any of us.
Appointed readings for today: Deuteronomy 26:16-19, Psalm 119:1-8, Matthew 5:43-48