IT was when Jesus rebuked the Twelve for censuring Mary, that the patience of Judas, chafing in a service which had grown hateful, finally gave way. He offered a treacherous and odious help to the chiefs of his religion, and these pious men, too scrupulous to cast blood-money into the treasure or to defile themselves by entering a pagan judgment hall, shuddered not at the contact of such infamy, warned him not that perfidy will pollute the holiest cause, care as little then for his ruin as when they asked what to them was his remorseful agony; but were glad, and promised to give him money. By so doing, they became accomplices in the only crime by which it is quite certain that a soul was lost. The supreme "offense" was planned and perpetrated by no desperate criminal. It was the work of an apostle, and his accomplices were the heads of a divinely given religion. What an awful example of the deadening power, palsying the conscience, petrifying the heart, of religious observances devoid of real trust and love.
The narrative, as we saw, somewhat displaced the story of Simon's feast, to connect this incident more closely with the betrayal. And it now proceeds at once to the Passover, and the final crisis. In so doing, it pauses at a curious example of circumspection, intimately linked also with the treason of Judas. The disciples, unconscious of treachery, asked where they should prepare the paschal supper. And Jesus gave them a sign by which to recognize one who had a large upper room prepared for that purpose, to which he would make them welcome. It is not quite impossible that the pitcher of water was a signal preconcerted with some disciple in Jerusalem, although secret understandings are not found elsewhere in the life of Jesus. What concerns us to observe is that the owner of the house which the bearer entered was a believer. To him Jesus is "the Master," and can say "Where is My guest-chamber?"
[NOTE: Carrying water was women's work; a man carrying a pitcher of water would be unusual.]
So obscure a disciple was he, that Peter and John require a sign to guide them to his house. Yet his upper room would now receive such a consecration as the Temple never knew. With strange feelings would he henceforth enter the scene of the last supper of his Lord. But now, what if he had only admitted Jesus with hesitation and after long delay? We should wonder; yet there are lowlier doors at which the same Jesus stands and knocks, and would fain come in and sup. And cold is His welcome to many a chamber which is neither furnished nor made ready.
The mysterious and reticent indication of the place is easily understood. Jesus would not enable His enemies to lay hands upon Him before the time. His nights had hitherto been spent at Bethany; now first it was possible to arrest Him in the darkness, and hurry on the trial before the Galileans at the feast, strangers and comparatively isolated, could learn the danger of their "prophet of Galilee." It was only too certain that when the blow was struck, the light and fickle adhesion of the populace would transfer itself to the successful party. Meanwhile, the prudence of Jesus gave Him time for the Last Supper, and the wonderful discourse recorded by St. John, and the conflict and victory in the Garden. When the priests learned, at a late hour, that Jesus might yet be arrested before morning, but that Judas could never watch Him any more, the necessity for prompt action came with such surprise upon them, that the arrest was accomplished while they still had to seek false witnesses, and to consult how a sentence might best be extorted from the Governor. It is right to observe at every point, the mastery of Jesus, the perplexity and confusion of His foes.
And it is also right that we should learn to include, among the woes endured for us by the Man of Sorrows, this haunting consciousness that a base vigilance was to be watched against, that He breathed the air of treachery and vileness.
Here then, in view of the precautions thus forced upon our Lord, we pause to reflect upon the awful fall of Judas, the degradation of an apostle into a hireling, a traitor, and a spy. Men have failed to believe that one whom Jesus called to His side should sink so low.
They have not observed how inevitably great goodness rejected brings out special turpitude, and dark shadows go with powerful lights; how, in this supreme tragedy, all the motives, passions, moral and immoral impulses are on the tragic scale; what gigantic forms of baseness, hypocrisy, cruelty, and injustice stalk across the awful platform, and how the forces of hell strip themselves, and string their muscles for a last desperate wrestle against the powers of heaven, so that here is the very place to expect the extreme apostasy. And so they have conjectured that Iscariot was only half a traitor. Some project had misled him of forcing his Master to turn to bay.
Then the powers which wasted themselves in scattering unthanked and unprofitable blessings would exert themselves to crush the foe. Then he could claim for himself the credit deserved by much astuteness, the consideration due to the only man of political resource among the Twelve. But this well-intending Judas is equally unknown to the narratives and the prophecies, and this theory does not harmonize with any of the facts. Profound reprobation and even contempt are audible in all the narratives; they are quite as audible in the reiterated phrase, "which was one of the Twelve," and in almost every mention of his name, as in the round assertion of St. John, that he was a thief and stole from the common purse. Only the lowest motive is discernible in the fact that his project ripened just when the waste of the ointment spoiled his last hope from apostleship, -- the hope of unjust gain, and in his bargaining for the miserable price which he still carried with him when the veil dropped from his inner eyes, when he awoke to the sorrow of the world which worketh death, to the remorse which was not penitence.
One who desired that Jesus should be driven to counter-measures and yet free to take them, would probably have favored His escape when once the attempt to arrest Him inflicted the necessary spur, and certainly he would have anxiously avoided any appearance of insult. But it will be seen that Judas carefully closed every door against his Lord's escape, and seized Him with something very like a jibe on his recreant lips.
No, his infamy cannot be palliated, but it can be understood. For it is a solemn and awful truth, that in every defeat of grace the reaction is equal to the action; they who have been exalted unto heaven are brought down far below the level of the world; and the principle is universal that Israel cannot, by willing it, be as the nations that are round about, to serve other gods. God Himself gives him statutes that are not good. He makes fat the heart and blinds the eyes of the apostate. Therefore it comes that religion without devotion is the mockery of honest worldlings; that hypocrisy goes so constantly with the meanest and most sordid lust of gain, and selfish cruelty; that publicans and harlots enter heaven before scribes and Pharisees; that salt which has lost its savor is fit neither for the land nor for the dung-hill. Oh, then, to what place of shame shall a recreant apostle be thrust down?
Moreover it must be observed that the guilt of Judas, however awful, is but a shade more dark than that of his sanctimonious employers, who sought false witnesses against Christ, extorted by menace and intrigue a sentence which Pilate openly pronounced to be unjust, mocked His agony on the cross, and on the resurrection morning bribed a pagan soldiery to lie for the Hebrew faith. It is plain enough that Jesus could not and did not choose the apostle through foreknowledge of what they would hereafter prove, but by His perception of what they then were, and what they were capable of becoming, if faithful to the light they should receive.
Not one, when chosen first, was ready to welcome the purely spiritual kingdom, the despised Messiah, the life of poverty and scorn. They had to learn, and it was open to them to refuse the discipline. Once at least they were asked, Will ye also go away? How severe was the trial may be seen by the rebuke of Peter, and the petition of "Zebedee's children" and their mother. They conquered the same reluctance of the flesh which overcame the better part in Judas. But he clung desperately to secular hope, until the last vestige of such hope was over. Listening to the warnings of Christ against the cares of this world, the lust of other things, love of high places and contempt of lowly service, and watching bright offers rejected and influential classes estranged, it was inevitable that a sense of personal wrong, and a vindictive resentment, should spring up in his gloomy heart. The thorns choked the good seed. Then came a deeper fall. As he rejected the pure light of self-sacrifice, and the false light of his romantic daydreams faded, no curb was left on the baser instincts which are latent in the human heart. Self-respect being already lost, and conscience beaten down, he was allured by low compensations, and the apostle became a thief. What better than gain, however sordid, was left to a life so plainly frustrated and spoiled? That is the temptation of disillusion, as fatal to middle life as the passions are to early manhood. And this fall reacted again upon his attitude towards Jesus. Like all who will not walk in the light, he hated the light; like all hirelings of two masters, he hated the one he left. Men ask how Judas could have consented to accept for Jesus the blood-money of a slave. The truth is that his treason itself yielded him a dreadful satisfaction, and the insulting kiss, and the sneering "Rabbi," expressed the malice of his heart. Well for him if he had never been born. For when his conscience awoke with a start and told him what thing he had become, only self-loathing remained to him. Peter denying Jesus was nevertheless at heart His own; a look sufficed to melt him. For Judas, Christ was become infinitely remote and strange, an abstraction, "the innocent blood," no more than that. And so, when Jesus was passing into the holiest through the rent veil which was His flesh, this first Antichrist had already torn with his own hands the tissue of the curtain which hides eternity.
Now let us observe that all this ruin was the result of forces continually at work upon human hearts. Aspiration, vocation, failure, degradation -- it is the summary of a thousand lives. Only it is here exhibited on a vast and dreadful scale (magnified by the light which was behind, as images thrown by a lantern upon a screen) for the instruction and warning of the world.