You look down on me, I know. You can’t believe I would do what I’ve done. Looking back, I want to tell you – I can’t either. I can’t explain it, but it seems my entire life I’ve been awed with the power of money. I don’t remember a lot growing up, but our family has been through quite a few highs and lows. My father was a religious leader and I was always trying to prove myself to him – to get his praise and attention.
So when the chance came to follow this Jesus, I jumped at it. I just knew he was different from the others who’d come and gone, pretending to be the Messiah. Somehow, I knew this man was different. Something new was happening here. My dad was going to be so proud of his son – at the epicenter of the Messiah rising to power and overturning the Roman rule we’ve been living under for so long.
There was one problem – even though I was handpicked by Jesus to be one of his 12 closest apostles, I was the only Judean. I was called “Judas Iscariot”, which told everyone I was from Kerioth, about 30 miles south of Jerusalem. I thought that would help my position in the ranks – you see, the other 11 were all from Galilee. I was different. I was unique. I was from a city closer to Jerusalem than all of them. Unfortunately, they all knew my hometown was not traditionally a place for faithful Jews. Still, just being one of “The 12” seemed like such an honor, and surely when he rose to his power I would be remembered. I just needed to serve well, and let him see how valuable I was.
I knew my chances for power increased when I was able to secure my spot as the “Group Treasurer” . I would take in donations, make decisions on what supplies we could sell, and make sure we always had the money we needed when traveling. You should have seen the gratitude some people wanted to give us. Sometimes a rich young man, or a powerful servant would be healed or want to give thanks for their masters’ healing. I knew Jesus was a humble guy, and simple as well. He didn’t want to accept gratitude, and didn’t want people to give us more than we needed. Thankfully, he had me in charge of that area. I knew he would eventually need some seed money to secure the provisions and supplies for an uprising worthy of the Son of God. And, of course, if I needed to set aside some of the funds myself, or enjoy some nice things on my own to survive our travels – that would be okay.
One time, Jesus sent us out in pairs to accomplish his ministry with greater impact. He gave us authority over unclean spirits. Imagine – the power to command unclean spirits and heal in the name of Jesus. I won’t tell you which disciple went with me, because I don’t want to get him in trouble. But let’s just say he wasn’t doubting my ability to make use of the gratitude people gave us. Jesus told us as we went out, not to carry any money in our belts, but he didn’t say anything about spending what was given to us while it was still in our hands!
So yes…I may have enjoyed being with Jesus a bit more than some of the other guys. But it only made sense. For so long, we Jews had been taught that life was all about living according to the law, and finally here was the Messiah saying – we didn’t have to worry about the specifics of the law – just the love of God. And boy did I love what following God gave me.
Too much, obviously.
It was my weakness. It was an area I thought I was gifted in – and it became the one area I wasn’t watching carefully. I was so good with numbers. I could tell you what anything was worth, and I could tell you how much it would cost for a group of 13 to manage a journey from Jerusalem to Galilee. I remember overhearing Jesus complimenting my skills of calculation to a fisherman whose boat we had borrowed. He seemed so genuinely glad to have me around. In that moment, I knew I’d secured my spot in power with him when his time came. I remember when that Tax Collector, Zacchaeus had us all over to his house, and apologized for defrauding people of their money. Jesus had me stay after the meal, and help this small man calculate how much he owed each of the people he’d taken from. I was so mad at this pawn of Rome’s power and oppression. He’d taken so much from his own people, all while using his position as servant of Rome to benefit from crushing his own. It was great to see him humbled. You should have heard the story Jesus told, about men who had been entrusted with wealth, and the honor given to the servant who helped multiply what was given to him. As I listened, I knew Jesus would be thankful for all the ways I helped grow our finances. Thankful enough, even, to forgive the small amounts I kept or used for my own.
He should have listened when I complained about the woman, Mary, pouring money all over his feet in the form of perfume. I’d smelled the scent only a few times in my life – this was liquid gold, basically. This was the kind of gift he would usually turn down, and I would accept after he’d walked away on his behalf. Do you know how much money it would’ve gained us? But he didn’t always make sense.
Like not long after that meal, when we arrived at Jerusalem. Word had gotten out that we were coming. That he was coming. You could hear the noise rising while we were still a long way off. So what does Jesus do? He asks us to get him a COLT. An ugly little thing that had never carried more than a basket of grain. He made us look like fools, even as the people cried out “SAVIOR, SAVE US!!” We tried to hold our heads high. We were with him.
But the problem had grown clearer with each passing day. Whenever we’d bring up his plans for power, he’d start talking and teaching us like we were children. Whenever we’d start day dreaming about putting Rome in it’s place, he’d redirect the conversation and try to soften our hearts toward the Roman oppressors.
Three years. Three years of my life I’d given to following this man, investing all that I had in what might happen next. I knew it was time. Everything was ripe for revolution. The crowds were with us. The power and influence in the Kingdom was shifting. But every single time we’d try to mention it, Jesus would try to calm us, change the subject, or start telling stories. I got to the point where I just started walking away. I didn’t need to hear these words. I didn’t need to hear these stories. I needed to see action. I needed to see that God’s Messiah hadn’t grown soft and gutless.
I began to wonder, what if? What if this wasn’t really the Messiah I’d thought he was going to be? What if this was just another false prophet, stirring up the crowds and speaking with authority, only to let us all down all over again?
I began to pay more attention to his stories. He warned against the scribes, saying his followers shouldn’t worry about getting respect, and having the best places in the synagogues or places of honor at banquets. He pointed out a poor widow putting two copper coins into the treasury at the synagogue. He honored her offering as if it were worth more than those who gave gold and silver. As I held onto our groups finances, I was pretty sure he wouldn’t want all of our coins to turn to copper. What was all of this talk about? We should have been looking for wealthy allies, people who could offer us the connections and supplies we needed for the upcoming revolution. Instead – Jesus was praising the gifts and presence of this woman who had nothing to offer us.
I was there, not long after, when he started to prophecy about the destruction of the temple, and the destruction of Jerusalem. I think that’s when it happened. When my heart really began to harden against this man I thought was the key to my future, the key to OUR future. What kind of Messiah would talk about the coming day when the Temple would be destroyed? What kind of Messiah would talk about the destruction of God’s Holy City? He even talked about the Judeans needing to flee into the surrounding mountains, away from the city! Didn’t he know this was God’s Holy Place? This was the place where our salvation and freedom would come from. This was the place where Majesty would be enthroned. This place was OUR HOPE. This place was our very LIFE.
As he continued to teach, I listened less and less. Something about the coming of a “Son of Man”. He was probably confessing we were all still waiting on a Messiah – including him. He seemed to be losing it, and was filled with emotion as he stared at a fig tree nearby. He talked about how you can tell summer is coming, because of the leaves sprouting on the tree. He compared it to knowing about the Kingdom of God, and how we can know it is near because of the signs he’d talked about. That we should be on our guard, and watchful.
Watchful. For what? If he didn’t know when God was planning to set up His Kingdom, it must not be now. It must not be here. It must not be Him. But he was so powerful. He was so different. He was so – Jesus. My heart was torn. I was mad. I was sad. I was breaking apart.
I lost track of the days. He would spend all day teaching in the temple, and come back to the Mount of Olives most nights. Some of us went with him. Sometimes a few of us stayed back. I usually stayed back those days. That’s when it happened…
Some of the higher ups were walking nearby, and I don’t think they realized I was there. They were talking about a secret meeting, and wanting to get rid of Jesus. I made myself remember where they were meeting, and when…..just in case I could connect. This would be the perfect way to see if he was the Messiah or not. If he could be gotten rid of, he was obviously not the man we’d been waiting for.
So as the others were gathering supplies for the passover meal, I knew this was a rare chance to sneak away. I went to the place this meeting was happening. At first they were worried, because they knew I was one who was close to Jesus. But I told them what was on my heart. We had a common goal. If this was just another man, he needed to be quieted. If this was the Messiah, well then – what could we do to stop him? They offered me 30 pieces of silver. Not a lot, but better than being left with nothing if they were going to have him killed anyways. I agreed.
Imagine, then, what happened next. As we gathered for the evening meal, Jesus took off his outer robe, tied a towel around his own waist, and came around washing our feet. A lump rose in my throat. The room was so quiet, as he came to each of us. Simon Peter, obviously, couldn’t keep his mouth shut, and wouldn’t let Jesus do it at first. Then Jesus mentioned we didn’t need to wash our entire bodies, because we were clean…except, he also said – not all of us were clean. I couldn’t tell if he looked at me in the moment, or not. But as the meal continued, it was so hard to pretend anymore. Finally, he paused as he spoke, and warned everyone that one of us would betray him. Of course, everyone responded with gasps, wanting to prove who was the most loyal. I tried to fit right in, in that moment. Then he called me out on the spot. How did he know? He excused me from the table, and I knew – my time was short. If he knew I was involved in something, it wouldn’t be long before he ran. I knew where he was going to be that night, but wasn’t sure about his plans the next days. So I went to find the men who I’d spoken with.
The leaders took me and we went to find a group of guards. Words were flying, accusing Jesus of instigating a political uprising. The guards knew exactly who they were talking about, and it wasn’t hard to convince them Jesus had a large following. They were charged with keeping the peace, and making sure we Jews didn’t attract too much attention from Rome. They knew if this went beyond them, it could be their own lives at stake. So they came with us, as I led them into the garden.
With a kiss of greeting, so I wouldn’t have to say a word, I’d agreed to show which man was Jesus there in the darkness of the garden. As soon as we arrived, I began to question what was about to happen, but if I turned back now it would be my own life at stake. So I walked forward to greet Jesus. I felt the glare of Simon Peter, hand already on his sword, and my eyes began to water as I greeted our rabbi.
I stepped aside, as Jesus with a commanding voice asked them “Whom are you looking for?” They told him, “Jesus of Nazareth”. Then it happened. I can’t explain it, but as Jesus spoke the words “I AM.”, all the fullness of a divine power seemed to overwhelm us, and we dropped to our knees. Still trying to understand what was happening, we heard Jesus ask again, “Whom are you looking for?” The guard responded again, this time bracing for what might happen….”Jesus of Nazareth”. Jesus answered “I told you, I AM. Let these other men go.” That’s when Peter ran forward with his sword drawn. I thought he was coming at me, and quickly dodged out of the way, but his eyes had always been fixed on the high priests’ slave who was reaching out to grab Jesus. He sliced the mans ear off, and that’s when several of us began to run. I was afraid of getting caught up in whatever might happen next.
The next hours were unbearable. I ran until I couldn’t run. I cried. Three years, for this? But the love in his eyes. The grace and kindness, even in those last moments. I wandered back into the city. I could hear crowds chanting, and women crying in the streets. I could hear the religious leaders rallying the people against this rebel. Threats that they needed to silence this man before Rome came to put us all in our place.
But the accusations they made. The horrible picture they painted of who Jesus was. How quick they were able to get everyone to turn against him. I didn’t even care anymore if he was the Messiah. Maybe he wasn’t – because this sure didn’t look like a rise to power. This looked like a path toward prison.
Finally I heard the news. It wasn’t prison – it was a death sentence. I couldn’t believe it. Jesus wasn’t rising to power the way I’d thought he should. But he was definitely a powerful prophet from God. An innocent man. And I had accepted payment to send him to a horrible death by crucifixion. This mans blood would be all over my hands, for the rest of my life. I couldn’t take it anymore. I went to give the money back, but they wouldn’t take it. I threw it on the ground in the temple, and ran.
You know my story. But I want you to know – we are not so different. We all want a savior. There’s a part of us that doubts whether Jesus has what it takes to meet our needs. To meet the needs of our community. To change our world.
I want to assure you – I don’t know everything. But I know the power of that man was divine. I want you to know the Love in those eyes, even in the moment of my betrayal – is the kind of love that can change a world.
I want you to know, if you get a chance to follow Jesus, even if the road ahead looks rough….please – follow Him. Any other path, leads only to death. A death you don’t have to experience – because he already did for you…