Read­ing Time: 14 minutes



This Sunday Gos­pel is a present­a­tion of what Jesus suffered because he pre­ferred to be just, faith­ful, com­mit­ted and ded­ic­ated to his mis­sion. The length of the read­ing sig­ni­fies his agony. Hav­ing explained to the dis­ciples the cri­terion for behold­ing the pres­ence of God (Matt 25:31–46), and two days before the Jew­ish Pas­sov­er, Jesus revealed to his dis­ciples his fate once he enters Jer­u­s­alem. The Son of Man will be handed over to be cru­ci­fied. This is God’s plan of sal­va­tion for human­ity being real­ized through Jesus Christ.

The Palm

This Sunday liturgy is par­tic­u­larly marked by the use of palm fronds. These fronds are blessed and used in pro­ces­sion, sig­ni­fy­ing Jesus’ tri­umphant entry into Jer­u­s­alem. In the ancient world, the palm is a sym­bol of beauty, fecund­ity, vital­ity and resur­rec­tion. In Hebrew, the palm is called Tamar, which also is the name of a woman, and the his­tory of this tree is often linked to fem­in­ine per­son­al­it­ies in the Bible (cf. Gen 38:6–30; 2Sam 13:1–22; Judg 4:2). 

It is one of the four plants used dur­ing the Jew­ish feast of Tab­er­nacles – Sukkoth (cf. Lev 23:40). The palm and oth­er plants are brought to the syn­agogue and waved about dur­ing the cere­mon­ies. Its healthy nature – very green leaves full of sap, provides imagery of prosper­ity, mater­i­al and spir­itu­al (cf. Ps 92:13[14]). In Isai­ah 9:14 and 19:15, the palm branch rep­res­ents the head or highest of the people as con­tras­ted with the reed, rep­res­ent­ing the low­est. For its form and dimen­sions, the palm indic­ates beauty and great­ness. Hence, the psalm­ist com­pares the upright char­ac­ter of the right­eous to the palm tree: “the right­eous will flour­ish like a palm tree” (Ps 92:12[13]); in the same vein, the Song of Songs describes the bride as hav­ing the stature of a palm tree (Song 7:7). Simon Mac­cabeus entered Jer­u­s­alem with thanks­giv­ing and branches of palm trees (cf. 1Macc 13:51). The branches of the palm that accom­pan­ied Jesus’ entrance to Jer­u­s­alem (cf. John 12:13) are signs of good health and homage, but espe­cially, of his vic­tory over death and evil. As we re-live that exper­i­ence, may these palms bring out our beauty, fecund­ity, vital­ity, and help us to be vic­tori­ous over every evil, espe­cially the evil of injustice, unright­eous­ness, betray­al and greed.

Who betrayed Jesus?

Fol­low­ing the Gos­pel accounts, the fol­low­ing were act­ively and con­vin­cingly involved in the betray­al of Jesus:

  1. Judas Iscari­ot him­self (cf. Matt 26:14–16);
  2. the rest of the dis­ciples (cf. Matt 26:56 – ful­filling v.31);
  3. Peter (cf. Matt 26:69–74).
  4. The pion­eer betray­ers. That is, the chief priests – archiere­is, the scribes/teachers of the law – gram­mateis and eld­ers – pres­b­uteroi (cf. Matt 26:1–4.47.59–61). I included these people in this list not because they betrayed dir­ectly Jesus, but because they betrayed that which they rep­res­en­ted – cus­todi­ans of justice and upright­ness. I also clas­si­fied them as pion­eer betray­ers because the fire was ignited by them (cf. Matt 26:3–5).

These were the prot­ag­on­ists of Jesus’ arrest and cru­ci­fix­ion. Why is Judas Iscariot’s case peculiar?

On Judas Iscariot

Gen­er­ally, for many (espe­cially Chris­ti­ans), the name Judas Iscari­ot evokes neg­at­iv­ity and rejec­tion. He is a sym­bol and syn­onym of a great sin­ner. But is this a good and only rep­res­ent­a­tion of someone who, pos­it­ively or neg­at­ively, played an import­ant and unique role in the his­tory of sal­va­tion? As stated above, Judas Iscari­ot was not the only per­son who betrayed Jesus. Why then is his role out­stand­ing? The role of Judas Iscari­ot is out­stand­ing because he was the one who mater­i­ally assisted the chief priests, the scribes and the eld­ers to achieve their evil plan – to arrest and cru­ci­fy Jesus. His plan was facil­it­ated by the fact that he was a mem­ber of the inner cham­ber, ful­filling Jesus’ affirm­a­tion that a person’s enemies are mem­bers of his house­hold (cf. Matt 10:36). Why Judas Iscari­ot? This strange char­ac­ter (Judas Iscari­ot) could be con­sidered from two per­spect­ives – theo­lo­gic­al and human.

The Theological Perspective

Theo­lo­gic­ally, without the role played by this unfor­tu­nate and unlucky fel­low, a vic­tim of cir­cum­stance (someone must betray Jesus) and of his own inclin­a­tion (love of money), prob­ably, there would not have been any paschal cel­eb­ra­tion, or there would have been, but it would have assumed a dif­fer­ent dimen­sion. I describe Judas Iscari­ot as an “unfor­tu­nate fel­low” because when Jesus announced his betray­al to his dis­ciples dur­ing the Pas­sov­er meal (cf. Matt 26:24), he did emphas­ise that “the Son of Man will go as it is writ­ten about him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would be bet­ter for him if he had nev­er been born.” But why must “that man by whom the son of man is betrayed” be Judas Iscari­ot? Is there any­thing in his name or in his per­son that neces­sar­ily neces­sit­ated his play­ing the part of a betray­er? Judas Iscari­ot is a strange char­ac­ter and everything about his choice and con­duct is mys­ter­i­ous. But why was this man with strange char­ac­ter chosen by Jesus as one of his apostles? Well, the only answer we can offer is found in Mat­thew 26:56. That is “that the Scrip­tures might be ful­filled.” It seems Judas Iscariot’s ter­rible crime was pre­dicted (Ps 109:5–8; Acts 1:16. Cf Zech 11:12). Accord­ing to the Johan­nine account of the pas­sion, Jesus was fully aware of who was going to betray him. He knew the role Judas Iscari­ot was going to play, yet, he nev­er stopped him so that the words of the Scrip­ture may be ful­filled (John 13:18; cf. Ps 41:9). Nev­er­the­less, Judas Iscari­ot will always be coun­ted among the key per­son­al­it­ies in the his­tory of salvation.

The Human Perspective

By human, I mean the lit­er­al or nat­ur­al Judas Iscari­ot. That is, Judas Iscari­ot devoid of God’s grace (due to his uncon­trolled love for money). The lit­er­al con­sid­er­a­tion of Judas Iscari­ot has to do with the ana­lys­is of his extraordin­ary attach­ment to money, which even­tu­ally led to his auto-destruc­tion. It seems Judas Iscari­ot betrayed Jesus because of his aston­ish­ing and nat­ur­al love for money. It appears he over­heard the secret delib­er­a­tions of the chief priests, the scribes and the eld­ers on how to arrest Jesus (Matt 26:3–4; Mark 14:1). This sus­pi­cion is based on the fact that Mat­thew and Mark emphas­ise it was he, who per­son­ally went to the chief priests and made known to them his inten­tion to assist them in their plan to arrest Jesus (Matt 26:14–15; Mark 14:10). Hav­ing accep­ted the pro­pos­al and agreed to offer him money, he sought and watched for the oppor­tun­ity to hand him over (Matt 26:16; Mark 14:11). Between his approach­ing the chief priests and wait­ing for the occa­sion to deliv­er Jesus up, the Matthean account indic­ates he spe­cific­ally asked the chief priest what his price would be if he should hand Jesus over to them. On their part, they agreed to pay him thirty pieces of sil­ver (cf. Matt 26:14–16).

Let me fur­ther my explan­a­tion with an example from the world of ICT. Def­in­itely, all of us know what a Com­puter Vir­us is – A soft­ware pro­gram cap­able of repro­du­cing itself and usu­ally cap­able of caus­ing great harm to files or oth­er pro­grams on the same com­puter, tab­let, phab­let or smart­phone. On the oth­er hand, we also know about Anti­vir­us soft­ware – A com­puter pro­gram that checks a com­puter for vir­uses and pre­vents their spread. Nor­mally, the pro­du­cers of these anti­vir­uses include some algorithms (set of rules) unknown to the users, which col­lects these online intru­sions (vir­uses) and send same to the producers.

Judas Iscari­ot was sup­posed to be an anti­vir­us. Unfor­tu­nately, he became both a super vir­us and an algorithm (of the anti­vir­us) in the midst of Jesus and the oth­er dis­ciples, secretly col­lect­ing inform­a­tion about Jesus in agree­ment with the gang­sters (chief priests, eld­ers and scribes). As John explained (12:6), he did that because he loved money, and this made him a thief, who looked for any and every oppor­tun­ity to extract some amount from the com­mon purse. As the treas­urer of the group of the Twelve, he had uncon­trolled access to the com­mon purse. Because of money, he could betray his own Master.

The betray­al

The Greek verb used in describ­ing the act of betray­al on the part of Judas ‎Iscari­ot is para­didōmi (Matt 26:15). This verb means to sur­render, that is, to deliv­er to anoth­er to keep; yield up; intrust; trans­mit; to deliv­er up, to hand over, to betray. Para­didōmi denotes all aspects of delib­er­ate giv­ing or giv­ing over. As a leg­al term, it means to bring before a court, to deliv­er up a pris­on­er. The term also extends from hand­ing over of a cap­tive to the rep­re­hens­ible act of betray­al, whereby a free man of good repute, who may well be inno­cent, is ruined (the case of Jesus). The verb can also have a pos­it­ive sense of hand down. That is, pass on instruc­tion from teach­er to pupil. In the Hel­len­ist­ic mys­tery reli­gions, para­didōmi is used in con­nec­tion with the deliv­ery of a holy teach­ing from the mas­ter to his pupils (the term para­dos­is – tra­di­tion, which denotes a hand­ing down, that which is handed down derives from this verb). Hav­ing been delivered from the bond­age of sin and tied to the free­dom of grace (cf. Rom 6:14), Paul warned the Roman Chris­ti­ans to be care­ful because we are slaves of the people or things we obey. Sequel to this, Paul thanked God that though they were slaves to sin, they obeyed from the heart that pat­tern of teach­ing they were entrus­ted to (Rom 6:17). Here, it is the mes­sage of sal­va­tion that is delivered over to the Roman Chris­ti­ans. Judas Iscari­ot ignored the theo­lo­gic­al sig­ni­fic­ance of para­didōmi and pre­ferred its neg­at­ive, derog­at­ory, and unsalvif­ic sense – betray­al. Now, ‎when you hand over someone or some­thing to anoth­er per­son, you can‎not guar­an­tee what could hap­pen to that per­son or to the object handed over. This is exactly the case of Judas Iscari­ot. His inten­tion differed from that of the chief priests, the eld­ers and the scribes. Where­as he was only inter­ested in mak­ing money, these were inter­ested in arrest­ing and killing Jesus. His return­ing the money they paid him is a clear indic­a­tion that their inten­tion differed. Although he repen­ted, but it was too late. Next page

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