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86. Why Hope Runs Dry (Matthew 27:1-10)

April 13, 2011 by  
Filed under Fr. Bartunek, Meditations, The Better Part

“Our pilgrim life here on earth cannot be without temptation, for it is through temptation that we make progress and it is only by being tempted that we come to know ourselves.” - St. Augustine

Matthew 27:1-10: When morning came, all the chief priests and the elders of the people met in council to bring about the death of Jesus. They had him bound, and led him away to hand him over to Pilate, the governor. When he found that Jesus had been condemned, Judas his betrayer was filled with remorse and took the thirty silver pieces back to the chief priests and elders. ‘I have sinned,’ he said. ‘I have betrayed innocent blood’ ‘What is that to us?’ they replied. ‘That is your concern.’ And flinging down the silver pieces in the sanctuary he made off and hanged himself. The chief priests picked up the silver pieces and said, ‘It is against the Law to put this into the treasury; it is blood-money.’ So they discussed the matter and bought the potter’s field with it as a graveyard for foreigners, and this is why the field is called the Field of Blood today. The words of the prophet Jeremiah were then fulfilled: And they took the thirty silver pieces, the sum at which the precious One was priced by children of Israel, and they gave them for the potter’s field, just as the Lord directed me.

Christ the Lord  Judas goes to the leaders of the Sanhedrin to repent. He returns his traitor’s prize and confesses his sin. How do these supposed representatives of the merciful God of Israel react? They brush him off; they couldn’t care less. A soul in dire need comes to them seeking redemption, and they give him a cold word of indifference instead.

How different Jesus is! If only Judas had gone to Jesus to ask forgiveness, he would have found new life. Christ is the first to abide by the lesson he taught Peter and the other apostles: that nothing should limit our forgiveness; seventy times seven times we should forgive those who offend us. And Jesus has never ceased living by this standard; he makes it so palpable and so tangible. Is there a limit to how often a sinner can frequent the confessional? And if he is repentant, even in the slightest, will he ever be denied the Lord’s forgiveness?

Judas was ashamed to go to Jesus, because his sin had been against Jesus. And yet, only Jesus could give him the fresh start he so desperately needed. How easy it is to please the heart of Christ by letting him forgive our sins, by letting him be Lord and issue his pardon, which he does so gladly every time we kneel before him in confession.

Christ the Teacher  Sin is self-destructive. Rebelling against God and the moral order he has built into the universe is like a rock climber cutting his own belay. It’s like putting sand in your gas tank; a car is made to run on gas, and a person is made to run on truth and goodness. Christ’s many exhortations to follow the path of humility, faith, and charity aren’t meant to be a random list of dos and don’ts that he uses just to keep his subjects under his thumb. He forbids evil deeds because they are evil – they destroy the sinner first of all, and they damage those around him at the same time.

Judas epitomizes the self-destructive nature of sin. Maybe he thought that his betrayal would only hasten the inevitable conflict that had been brewing between Jesus and the Pharisees, or maybe he thought that Jesus would evade capture in the end anyway, as he had always done in the past. Whatever excuses he used to allay his conscience, they collapse in the face of the Sanhedrin’s unjust condemnation and brutal treatment of the Lord, and Judas can no longer escape the clamor of his conscience. He tries to undo his deed, but he can’t. And so he despairs. All he needed was the Lord’s forgiveness, but by then his habits of self-reliance and arrogance have made it impossible for him to accept help from another, and disaster ensues.

Sin has consequences. It mutilates the soul. It incapacitates the heart. Sin is self-destructive, and the case of Judas is its tragic icon.

Christ the Friend  Judas: What could I have done? I saw him give himself up. He didn’t resist at all. And then I saw that trial. It was a travesty of a trial. And they condemned him to death. He didn’t deserve death. I had to give back the money. How could I keep it? It was red with his blood. Where could I have gone? My sin was so colossal. It wasn’t just the money. My heart, my lips – the lips that had betrayed him with a kiss of greeting – were stained just as red. It was all my fault. I had failed him. How could he love me after that? How could he ever trust me again? I had failed the other disciples. How could I ever face them again? I had failed myself. I couldn’t stand myself, and I couldn’t escape myself. I had only one option. What else could I have done? I had failed. It was over. There was nowhere else to turn.

Jesus: Judas, my son. We had spent so much time together, and still you didn’t know me! The times we had walked and talked together on the dirty roads, up and down the hills… There was a time when your heart burned to build the Kingdom of generosity, self-sacrifice, forgiveness, and truth. You were too impatient, though. I watched with sadness as your heart contracted. You wanted everything to be perfect right away. You wanted everyone to change right away. You grew restless. You resented my patience. You resented the ignorance of the other apostles, and their difficulty in understanding my teachings. You began to withdraw into your own dreams of grandeur. When you stopped opening your heart to me, I knew that you had started down a dangerous path. But even then I stayed with you. Did I ever reject you? If only you could have trusted me. Judas, my son, I never stopped loving you. I could have given you a fresh start.

Christ in My Life  They bind you and take you off to be sentenced to death, and you let them. What are you thinking as they march you to Pilate’s court? You are thinking of me, and that thought drives you forward to fulfill your mission. Scripture tells me that you have loved me from all eternity. On that fateful day, then, you never let your gaze fall away from me. Today I want to think of you. To praise your goodness and learn to follow you – what else could my heart desire? …

Never let me despair of receiving your forgiveness. At times it’s hard for me to forgive myself, just as it was for Judas. Help me to see that this comes from my arrogance and my exaggerated sense of self-importance. You, on the other hand, know my weakness and sinfulness through and through, and yet you love me. Jesus, have mercy on me…

Mary, how many people throughout the world are falling into despair! They have no hope; they are imprisoned in the walls erected by their own sin. But Jesus gave his life to save them. Pray for them, Mary, and pray for me, that I will find ways to be Christ for them…

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About Fr. John Bartunek, LC

Fr. John Bartunek, LC, S.Th.D, received his BA in History from Stanford University in 1990. He comes from an evangelical Christian background and became a member of the Catholic Church in 1991. After college he worked as a high school history teacher, drama director, and baseball coach. He then spent a year as a professional actor in Chicago before entering the religious Congregation of the Legionaries of Christ in 1993. He was ordained a Catholic priest in 2003 and earned his doctorate in moral theology in 2010. He provided spiritual support on the set of Mel Gibson’s "The Passion of the Christ" while researching the 2005 Catholic best seller, "Inside the Passion"--the only authorized, behind-the-scene explanation of the film. Fr. John has contributed news commentary regarding religious issues on NBC, CNN, Fox, and the BBC. He also served as the English-language press liaison for the Vatican’s 2005 Synod of Bishops on the Eucharist. His most widely known book is called: "The Better Part: A Christ-Centered Resource for Personal Prayer". He has also published two other titles: "Meditations for Mothers" and "A Guide to Christian Meditation". Fr. John currently resides in his Order’s General Directorate in Rome, where he is continuing his writing apostolate. His blog contains questions and answers on the spiritual life at www.RCSpiritualDirection.com. His online retreats are available at www.RCSpirituality.org.

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