A betrayal planned

JudasBetrayal-Giotto10 Then Judas Iscariot, one of the Twelve, went off to the chief priests to hand him over to them. 11 When they heard him they were pleased and promised to pay him money. Then he looked for an opportunity to hand him over.

Mark inserts the beginning of the betrayal into the narrative. It draws a sharp contrast between the selfless devotion of the woman and the treachery planned by his friend. Mark tells us the “what” but not necessarily the “why.” We know that the chief priest and scribed were seeking “a way to arrest him by treachery and put him to death.” (v.1) But they needed a strategy that would avoid a public scene and the possibility of a riot. The offer from Judas was an opportunity to avoid a public disturbance (or even riot).

But what was Judas’ motivation for the betrayal? It is impossible to establish from the narrative what might have led to Judas’s action, since Mark never provides an explanation for the treachery. Scholars have advanced theories based on a number of motivations: avarice (cf. John 12:5), a messianic expectation that was highly political leading to the overthrow of the Romans, and even a growing hostility that was not part of the inner circle (Peter, John, and James?). In the end they are just that: theories.

We do know that Judas chose to remove himself from the family. Jesus has defined his followers as a new family that will be devoted to doing the will of God (3:31–35). The apocalyptic discourse, however, warns disciples that they might be turned in by “brothers, parents, or children” (13:12). Judas’s action exemplifies such behavior. From this point on, the story refers to him only as “the betrayer.”

Sources

  • William L. Lane, The Gospel of Mark in The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1974) 495-96
  • Pheme Perkins, The Gospel of Mark, vol. 8 of The New Interpreter’s Bible (Nashville, TN: Abington Press,1994) 8:700
  • The New American Bible available on-line at http://www.usccb.org/bible
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