You might want to do today’s reading with the James Bond theme song in your head, because this is Spy Wednesday. Strange name, I know, but it points to the action of the day. On Wednesday of Holy Week, Jesus hung out in Bethany, staying away from Jerusalem where all the action was going down.
When Jesus had finished saying all these things, he said to his disciples, “As you know, the Passover is two days away—and the Son of Man will be handed over to be crucified.”
Then the chief priests and the elders of the people assembled in the palace of the high priest, whose name was Caiaphas, and they schemed to arrest Jesus secretly and kill him. “But not during the festival,” they said, “or there may be a riot among the people.”
While Jesus was in Bethany in the home of Simon the Leper*, a woman came to him with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, which she poured on his head as he was reclining at the table.
When the disciples saw this, they were indignant. “Why this waste?” they asked. “This perfume could have been sold at a high price and the money given to the poor.”
Aware of this, Jesus said to them, “Why are you bothering this woman? She has done a beautiful thing to me. The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me. When she poured this perfume on my body, she did it to prepare me for burial. Truly I tell you, wherever this gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.”
Then one of the Twelve—the one called Judas Iscariot—went to the chief priests and asked, “What are you willing to give me if I deliver him over to you?” So they counted out for him thirty pieces of silver. From then on Judas watched for an opportunity to hand him over.
– Matthew 26:1-16
Judas is the spy of Spy Wednesday. He is one of the many bad guys of the passion story. The subject of Judas sits as if on quicksand. If we condemn him too much as Jesus’ betrayer, we forget that his betrayal was expected. Even the amount (what a slave cost in those days) was prophesied (Zechariah 11:12-13). But if we don’t condemn him, if we make apologies for Judas (“Didn’t he have to do it, after all. Poor guy.?”), we can easily slide into making excuses for Christ’s betrayer, which is equally (if not more) problematic. At best, we have to tolerate Judas’ presence at the table and learn what we can about ourselves.
I doubt Judas knew from the moment that he became Jesus’ disciple that he would betray Him at the end. Maybe Jesus knew, but I doubt Judas went into discipleship with that intention. Through the gospels, we see Judas showing signs that he is becoming increasingly disgruntled, usually over the issue of money. He was, after all, the keeper of the funds. His priority of financial gain warred with his priority of following Jesus, and money won. Thirty pieces of silver was his price.
So today is a good day to meditate on our priorities, whatever they may be, and to ask ourselves if any priority of ours may be setting us up to become increasingly disgruntled with discipleship. What do we value that gets in the way of total commitment? Is there something we value that sits outside our beliefs? These are tough questions, but Holy Week is a good time to ask them.
Lord, help us spy inside our own hearts for anything that gets between us and you. Help us value what you value, and dismiss the concerns that might war with our own journey as your disciples. Bring us to your table tomorrow, ready to put aside our tendencies to deny and betray so that we might participate in your Last Supper as those who love you in action as well as word. Amen.
*Note that Matthew’s version of the woman anointing Jesus’ with oil happens in Bethany, but at a different house with an unnamed woman. She anoints his head, not his feet. Also, the critique of her actions is shared amongst the disciples, but it is Judas who takes action. In John’s version which we talked about in worship on March 13, it happens before Holy Week, they are at the house of Lazarus; it is Mary the sister of Lazarus who does the anointing, it’s his feet, and it is Judas who provides the critique.