Friday, September 23, 2011

Money and Betrayal in the Church

In St. John's Gospel we get the clear impression that Judas betrayed Jesus for the money.  The Gospel tells us that Judas was particularly upset at the "waste" of the woman who poured ointment on Jesus.  Judas calculates the value of the ointment--about a year's wages--and complains that the money could have been given to the poor.  St. John tells us, however, that Judas was not really concerned for the poor because he was accustomed to helping himself from the collective money box.  Indeed, the hymns of the Church during Holy Week repeatedly tell us that greed was the primary motive for Judas' betrayal of Jesus.  

I confess that it is hard for me to believe that Judas would betray Jesus merely out of greed, and for such a small amount--30 pieces of silver, a little more than a month's wages, one tenth of the value of the ointment that was freely "wasted" on Jesus.  I'm not the only one who struggles intellectually here.  Many have speculated on what Judas' real motives were.  Speculations range from political to personal to even pious motivations (e.g. Judas thought he could force Jesus' hand to publicly manifest Himself as Messiah).  However, very few "intellectuals" theses days seem to be able to buy the Church's explanation: greed.  Why? What's our problem?

Well maybe my problem is that I am too much like Judas myself.  It too count the value of what others give to the Church in the form of expensive liturgical items and consider whether or not the money might have been "better" spent elsewhere.  I too make my living out of our little church community's collective money box.  I too fail to give freely, like the generous woman, but rather count my pennies and consider what is enough, rather than what is generous.  I too easily, oh so easily, take offence when someone else seems to be "wasting" church resources: "Why does Fr. X drive such a nice car?"  "Why does His Grace Y have to stay in such an expensive hotel?" Why does His Eminence Z take so many trips to the Old Country?"  Yes, there are times when the Judas demon would feel right at home in my mind. 

The parallels between Judas' relationship with money and mine are frightening.  And if others have these same greedy tendencies, then it is no wonder we have a hard time accepting the Church's testimony that Judas' betrayal was a matter of mere greed.  To admit that is to admit that we too could betray Christ, for we have a similar greed at work in us.

But things are not as frightening as they appear.

While St. John focuses on Judas' motivation for betrayal, St. Mark (14: 3-9) points out that some were indignant, not just Judas; and St. Matthew (26: 6-13) says the disciples generally were indignant.  It seems that Judas was not the only greedy one.  It seems that we who struggle with generosity and are quick to call waste any expenditure that we do not agree with, it seems we are in good company.  Well, good and bad company.

Perhaps the difference between Judas and me, and between Judas and the other Disciples, was not that Judas experienced greedy thoughts and I and others do not.   Rather the difference has to do with whether or not we let greed determine our actions, let greed motivate us, allow ourselves to be driven by fear or anger that has greed at it's root.  

Of course, such an explanation should not lead us to breathe easy.  That I am not generous, that I do "calculate the value of the gift" (as the hymns of the Church say of Judas), that I do sometimes take offence at what appears to me to be the extravagance of others, that any of this is the case, I should fear.  I should fear a holy fear that leads me to repentance.  The seeds of greed have not been completely weeded from my heart.  The thought that I could, if I do not attend to my on-going repentance and under the right circumstances, betray Jesus as Judas did, that thought is enough to scare the hell out of me (quite literally).

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