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One of the Twelve

Kiss of Judas by Giotto, c. 1305 [Scrovegni Chapel, Padua, Italy]
Today, we remember Palm Sunday, Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem, that brief moment before he was betrayed. Every Gospel writer points out that our Lord’s betrayer was one of His closest friends. At the beginning of our Lord’s public life, when He calls the Apostles, Judas is already pegged as the one “who became traitor.” (Lk 6:16; cf. Mt 10:4; Mk 3:19). In the account of his going to the chief priests, he is “one of the twelve.” (Mt 26:14; Mk 14:10; cf. Lk 22:3). In John’s Gospel it is the Lord Himself Who makes this observation: “‘Did I not choose you, the twelve, and one of you is a devil.’ He spoke of Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, for he, one of the twelve, was to betray him.” (Jn 6:70-71)

In a sense, the repeated phrase “one of the twelve” states a simple historical fact. Jesus was not just put to death by His enemies but betrayed by one of His own. In a deeper sense, however, the line serves as a warning to all who follow Christ – and, indeed, to those closest to Him. Judas was with our Lord for the same three years as the others. With them, he heard the sermons, witnessed the miracles, and was sent forth by Christ. And yet he betrayed our Lord. We should never think ourselves beyond the wickedness of Judas. Proximity to Jesus does not always mean intimacy with Him.

So it is a healthy thing to look at Judas’s negative example. Not with a view to condemning him all over again or to feel our own superiority. Rather, we do so with a certain empathy, aware that we labor under the same human weaknesses and are likewise capable of grave sin – of betrayal. What then do we find in the betrayer that we might also find in ourselves?

First is Judas’s failure to persevere in his conversion. Our Lord chose him just as surely as He chose Peter and John. He did not do so begrudgingly or out of necessity. When our Lord addresses Judas as “friend” in the Garden of Gethsemane (Mt 26:50), He does intend it as irony or sarcasm. At some point, Judas’ conversion seems to have faltered. Perhaps it was simple sloth. Perhaps it was a teaching he couldn’t accept. John hints that the Bread of Life discourse was Judas’s undoing – hence the Lord’s reference to him as “a devil” at the end of it.

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