On Sundays my bible class is working through the Passion narrative in the gospel of Matthew. This Sunday I have the texts regarding Judas' betrayal of Jesus. As I prepare for that class I'm reading Susan Gubar's book Judas: A Biography. I thought I'd devote a few posts to thinking about Judas.
Of the four gospels, only Matthew tells us about Judas' suicide. After betraying Jesus in the garden Judas "saw that Jesus was condemned" before Pilate. One wonders, at this point, what Judas thought was going to happen to Jesus. Perhaps Judas didn't think the Sanhedrin was going to get the Romans involved. By involving the Romans the Sanhedrin brought capital punishment into the picture. Perhaps Judas didn't anticipate this eventuality. Regardless, seeing Jesus condemned to die by crucifixion Judas is "seized with remorse." Judas confesses his sin and begins to repent. The events unfold like this in Matthew 27:
Early in the morning, all the chief priests and the elders of the people came to the decision to put Jesus to death. They bound him, led him away and handed him over to Pilate, the governor.Historically, many within Christianity have considered suicide to be a mortal sin. Thus, it's a bit of a trap, morally speaking, to commit suicide. Your last act was a mortal sin and, because you are dead, you can't repent. So you die in sin. Thus, suicides were not allowed to be buried on consecrated ground.
When Judas, who had betrayed him, saw that Jesus was condemned, he was seized with remorse and returned the thirty silver coins to the chief priests and the elders. "I have sinned," he said, "for I have betrayed innocent blood."
"What is that to us?" they replied. "That's your responsibility."
So Judas threw the money into the temple and left. Then he went away and hanged himself.
The chief priests picked up the coins and said, "It is against the law to put this into the treasury, since it is blood money." So they decided to use the money to buy the potter's field as a burial place for foreigners. That is why it has been called the Field of Blood to this day.
Against that backdrop, here is my gut reaction to Judas' story. It seems, given my sensibilities, that Judas' suicide was an act of repentance. I'm not saying that the act of taking his own life wasn't sinful. Just that the suicide, if you read Matthew, appeared to be an act of repentance. The suicide follows confession and seems to be, along with returning the money, an effort at repentance.
What does this mean? I'm not sure. But as a psychologist, and having sat through many long nights with suicidal people, I've never been comfortable with seeing suicides in moral terms. I see suicides as sad and tragic. Not sinful or evil.
More specifically, I can't imagine that God's heart didn't go out to Judas as he wrapped the rope around his neck, tears streaming down his face. I don't know why Judas did what he did. And perhaps it would have been better if he had never been born. I bet, before he killed himself, Judas would have agreed.
May God bless his soul.