Jesus arrested, Mark 14:42-49
42: Up, let’s be going. Look, my betrayer is here!”
43: And immediately, even as Jesus said this, Judas, one of the twelve disciples, arrived with a crowd of men armed with swords and clubs. They had been sent by the leading priests, the teachers of religious law, and the elders. 44The traitor, Judas, had given them a prearranged signal: “You will know which one to arrest when I greet him with a kiss. Then you can take him away under guard.” 45As soon as they arrived, Judas walked up to Jesus. “Rabbi!” he exclaimed, and gave him the kiss.
46: Then the others grabbed Jesus and arrested him.
47: But one of the men with Jesus pulled out his sword and struck the high priest’s slave, slashing off his ear.
48: Jesus asked them, “Am I some dangerous revolutionary, that you come with swords and clubs to arrest me? 49Why didn’t you arrest me in the Temple? I was there among you teaching every day. But these things are happening to fulfill what the Scriptures say about me.” (New Living Translation)
The Roman Empire was a big bully. On the world stage, planet Earth had never seen an empire exhibit this level of control over such a wide swath of the world. Of course, lots of good came with that—such as paved roads, sewers, food distribution networks, increased commerce, policing against bandits and pirates, and some pretty cool buildings. But along with the good came oppression, mass-scale slavery, and a rigid social hierarchy where some were considered worth more than others. And, of course, crucifixions. Romans crucified people by the hundreds of thousands. Few things symbolized their power, and intention to use that power, more than daily crucifixions in the town square.
All of this makes the betrayal by Judas difficult to explain. He was a Jew. He would have hated the Romans. Why would he identify Jesus to the very authorities that would turn Jesus over to be crucified? Lots of theories have been proposed. One says that Judas was secretly a member of a Jewish militia group. When Jesus didn’t overthrow Rome, he became disillusioned and betrayed Jesus out of anger. Another suggests this was Judas’ convoluted way of forcing Jesus’ hand, as he thought Jesus really would send 10,000 angels to go to war against Rome.
I’m not sure any of these theories really help. Certainly, neither can be proven. What we do know is that, even though he was very close to Jesus, he betrayed him. Judas saw the miracles. He heard Jesus’ powerful sermons. He witnessed Jesus’ authority as he confronted the Pharisees. And he saw the crowds flock to Jesus, receiving hope and walking away changed forever. Yet in the midst of all of this, Judas allowed a darkness to enter his thinking. Somewhere along the way, he allowed his focus to shift away from the glorious Jesus to other desires. Jesus offered him eternity, but he wanted something else.
Still, Judas didn’t see himself as the bad guy. He clearly believed he needed to turn Jesus over to the authorities, but he did it with a kiss. He was a nice guy, a good guy. He was “good” in the same way that the Germans who turned over hiding Jews to the Nazis were good. He was “good” in the same way the white Southern clergy who urged Martin Luther King Jr. to stop causing a ruckus were good. His kiss should startle us. The Greek word for kiss is kataphileo, which is the combination of two words. Kata means “according to” and phileo is one of several Greek words for love. We know phileo from Philadelphia, which literally means “city of love.” A kiss is an action that is “according to love.” This is what makes this scenario so crazy. In Judas’ mind, he approached Jesus in love. He felt his intention was good; therefore he must be good.
Yet this “goodness”—which is really just evil covered with a lousy excuse—is the very thing from which Jesus came to free us. Ultimately, this is the message of the cross. Jesus pays the price for our wickedness, even our wickedness done with “good intentions.” Even better, he offers us something new, something truly good. He shatters our conceptions of right and wrong and asks us to see the world through his eyes. Your goodness isn’t enough. That is why Jesus offers us his.
Rev. Josh Gelatt is the pastor at North Oak Community Church in Hays.