Judas Iscariot Fifth Sunday in Lent April 3, 2022

I won’t tell you my Aramaic name because most of you will get mad. The rest of you will hate me. But I will tell you I am one of the original 12 Apostles. And I will tell you my Hebrew name is Yehuda, which means “Yahweh be praised.”

Simeon, who I know as Cephas, was named after the second son of Jacob, the father of Israel. I was named after Judah Maccabeus – a revolutionary hero of recent Jewish history. My name is Judas Iscariot. What I want to do this morning is answer some of the WHY questions you have about me.

Iscariot

I was born in Kerioth, a city in Palestine in Judea. South of Jerusalem. This means I am the only Apostle not from Galilee, like Jesus. The Hebrew meaning of “Iscariot” is “man from Kerioth.”

Background

I was fortunate growing up. I had more education than most Jewish boys because I was good at numbers and I was good at working with money. I got work in and around Kerioth as what you call a cashier. After several years working familiar ground, my confidence told me to go to Jerusalem.

One day, while working a local street market, a man came up to me, looked me in the eye, and said “Follow me.” He had a kind face, so I followed him. We walked down to the Temple and then we walked inside the Temple where he sat me down at the table of Money-changers.

That was a good job that paid well. And the exposure to the Temple Priests, other religious leaders, some Roman soldiers and the vendors was an added benefit. I soon became friends with a member of the Sanhedrin and a couple of Roman soldiers. I learned much from these contacts. More importantly, I was no longer a stranger there.

I stayed in Jerusalem for 3 or 4 Passovers. But being a Temple money-changer is also slow work – and, therefore, low pay – when we weren’t celebrating a festival or a holiday. Still a young man, one day, I left the Temple and went to look for work and adventure in Galilee.

Calling

I worked in Galilee several years until one morning, I was working in a small village market somewhere near Capernaum, helping a Baker sell his goods. A young man walked up to me, got down on one knee so we would be eye-to-eye, and he said:  Come with me. I need you.      Then he got up and walked away.

I don’t know why, but I got up, told the Baker I was leaving and followed him out of the market. If you are counting, I was the last Apostles Jesus called.

My Job

Because of my experience as a cashier and a money-changer, I was made the holder of our common purse: I collected donations, bought what we needed, sold what we didn’t need and I distributed money to the poor.

I was not a thief! I am not a thief! I did not fatten my purse with our common purse. Okay, I did get pretty angry when that woman anointed him with expensive oil. It was my job to get angry when expensive things were wasted. But I remained the holder of the common purse. If he didn’t trust me, why didn’t he give the money duties to Matthew, the Tax Collector?

Ministry

Cephas was correct. Before the death of his Cousin, being an apostle of Jesus was easy. There was time for us to get to know him better.

Having more education than the others, except maybe Matthew, he and I talked about him often, we discussed him and we argued about him and who he claimed to be.

Why did we disagree about his claims? I was a Sicari. Many believe Iscariot is more a corruption of the Latin word sicarius – which means “assassin” – than an indication of where I was born.

I was a devout, Zealot Jew. Our world was in political turmoil. Our people were suffering. We were anxiously awaiting the imminent coming of the prophesied Messiah, who would lead us in a successful revolt against the Romans. A Warrior Messiah.

And Jesus was not a Warrior Messiah. He was a delusional, wandering preacher who truly believed himself to be the Hebrew “Son of Man.” It is interesting, though, he never actually called himself the son of God. Instead, he frequently referred to God as his Father: “see me, he said, and you see the Father.” And he made ridiculous statements implying he was a god: “before Abraham was, I am.” These proclamations of his divinity angered Caiaphas and the Pharisees.

But what really sealed his fate was his continuous talk about his coming Kingdom without first convincing the Romans it was a spiritual kingdom.

After the death of John the Baptizer, he focused his energy on getting us, his Apostles, to accept all his fantasies as fact.

Messiahs

I had seen “Messiahs” before – even followed one for a while. Despite the strength of their misguided belief in themselves or the size of the following they gather, their story never ends quietly or non-violently – the Romans kill them and their closest followers!

In many respects, Jesus didn’t seem much different from the others. But he was. The lessons in his Parables were good, if you understood them and he rarely endorsed violence. Up until the death of John the Baptizer, he didn’t really do anything to make the Romans or the Jewish leadership mad at him.

Personally, I never understood why he said he had to die. I didn’t understand why he wanted to die?

Hung Around

I stayed because he truly believed he was the prophesied Messiah. I stayed because I wanted some answers and, to be honest, I stayed because we had become like brothers – we loved each other.

Jerusalem

But from when he learned of his cousin’s death until we reached the gate of Jerusalem, Jesus did what he could to antagonize the Jewish spies Caiaphas sent to question him and trick him. And he succeeded.

Our entry into Jerusalem was as crazy as Cephas said, but my friend in the Sanhedrin told me to be very cautious: Jesus was going to be watched very carefully while in Jerusalem. My friends in the Roman contingent didn’t know much more than to be ready to act or react very quickly.

Last Supper

I heard about Cephas’ description of our last meal together, what you call The Last Supper. It made me laugh. That was the only time I have even smiled since the Crucifixion.

Bag of Silver

Cephas told you that Jesus didn’t need to be “betrayed.” That Caiaphas and the Jewish leaders and Pilate and the Roman Guard always knew where he was while he was in Jerusalem. And that was true.

You can ask me. It’s killing you, isn’t it? Go ahead, Ask me. Did I take the silver to betray Jesus? No, I did not take the silver to betray Jesus.

But I did take the money.

Why? Because I only saw two realistic ends to this story: Once arrested, Jesus would find an opportunity to speak to the crowd and the throng of angry Jews would multiply and storm the Roman contingent and throw them out of Jerusalem. And we would need money to buy weapons and supplies;

Or, if he continued his crazy statements and his misplaced belief in his own self-importance, I figured either Caiaphas or Pilate, if it got that far, would see how delusional he was and simply have him scourged and give him back to us. We would need to get out of town in a hurry, and we would need money to do it.

Either way, I planned on us all being together!

There was a third option, kind of. But it made no sense to me. Thirty pieces of silver was the price for a slave. But I couldn’t believe Caiaphas, the High Priest, would buy someone just to have him killed. Could they have hated and feared him that much?

Crucifixion

I was open to almost any finale: Since he went through the flogging and the march to Golgotha, he might still be released; or he might come down from the cross to start his kingdom; or He might come down from the cross to lead us in a revolt against the Romans.

But not of those happened. First, he didn’t come down from the cross while he was still alive; then, he died on the cross; and then, he just hung there, It actually made me sad that I had to admit I was correct: he wasn’t the Messiah we were waiting for.

Within the hour, I was heading deeper into Judea.

I had killed my best friend. Probably my only friend. Someone I could talk to and argue with. Someone I loved like a brother. Someone who knew me and loved me.

I thought he was out of my life forever. But he’s here every day!

Sermon Given at SMLC on April 3, 2022, by Lay Preacher Len Docimo.