Holy Week begins today—the most solemn season of the Church’s year. The gospel readings for Tuesday and Wednesday of this week (John 13:21-33, 36-38 and Matthew 16:14-25) portray the scene of Jesus announcing to his disciples that one of them would betray him. Judas is, of course, the villain in both accounts; and in both, evil predominates. John and Matthew tell the story somewhat differently, in ways that bring out different aspects of their subject.
Evil is at work throughout the story of the Passion. For various reasons, all the enemies of Jesus are complicit in it; all of them are self-interested. But in their purest form, the gospels portray evil in the personal betrayal of the Lord by one of his chosen friends. The motive of Judas is mysterious. It is not humanly explicable. Its mystery—its superhuman malice—is made clear by John, who says that Satan entered into him.
As we approach the final three days of Holy Week, culminating in the crucifixion of the Lord, it’s worth considering this mystery of evil in the soul of Judas. All the other actors in the drama of the Passion had motives that were far from good, but at least they were explicable: Herod and Pilate had political motives; the temple authorities and the Pharisees had religious ones; the mocking bystanders and the violent soldiers were moved by passion. They were all being used as instruments of evil—and Jesus prayed to the Father to forgive them for they knew not what they did.
But Judas is different: He knew who Jesus was; Jesus had chosen him and revealed the love of God to him; Jesus had called him “friend.” So when Judas betrayed Jesus, he knew what he was doing. And what was that? With full knowledge Judas was rejecting the divine and human gift of love. John demonstrates it symbolically when Judas receives from Jesus the morsel of bread dipped in wine, a sign of love, at which point, Satan enters him. Matthew demonstrates it with the bitter irony of Judas, in the very act of betrayal, giving Jesus a kiss.
Everything we call “evil”—every vice and sin—has its ultimate origin (if not its conscious motive) in this mysterious rejection of divine and human love: The rebellion of the angels—whose motive is completely dark to us—lodges in the soul of Judas, and (as Matthew fearfully describes) destroys him. All the more reason, as we look upon the Cross of Jesus, to see there and receive the gift of love.