William Blake once said, “It is easier to forgive an enemy than to forgive a friend.” Those of us who have been betrayed agree. An enemy’s low opinion is expected, but a friend’s betrayal is different. It is a calculated decision to abandon loyalty for another gain. With soul-crushing force, betrayal communicates that the betrayed is not worth much at all.
The Wednesday between Palm Sunday and the resurrection was likely the day that Judas Iscariot betrayed Jesus Christ. It was, like all betrayals, a cost-benefit decision. Judas came to the conclusion that the benefit of being Jesus’ friend was worth less than 30 pieces of silver.
He said this, not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief, and having charge of the moneybag he used to help himself to what was put into it. (John 12:6)
John 12:6 provides a glimpse into Judas’ inner world. Beneath a veneer of concern for the poor, Judas loved money. The money wasted in a perfume bath of Jesus’ feet did not represent less provision for the poor but less money for Judas. And this wasn’t about the coins. Like all of us, Judas loved the coins because they provided security.
I suspect that Judas’ initial attraction to Jesus had something to do with security, as well. If security is your thing, it’s smart to follow a man who calms seas and raises people from the dead. But there was a problem with Jesus. He wasn’t using his power to provide safety for his followers. In fact, as the months wore on, following Jesus seemed to be a dangerous proposition.
Judas didn’t love money for money’s sake; likewise, he didn’t love Jesus for Jesus’ sake. He sought security in both. When following Jesus left Judas’ security wanting, the betrayal came easy. It’s this cold calculation that puts the oomph in the gut shot. Jesus simply didn’t cut it as a friend and Savior.
And Judas added the insult of a kiss to the injury of his betrayal. In the height of his treachery, Judas feigned a friendship and treated the Lord like a fool. Jesus’ own words reveal his pain: “Judas, would you betray the Son of Man with a kiss?” (Luke 22:48).
As one betrayed, I find comfort in sharing this suffering with my Savior. As a traitor, I find conviction. Before I was a victim, I was a perpetrator. I’ve made my own calculations and decided that Jesus wasn’t worth following. My own betrayal came with a kiss. I maintained a veneer of Christian faithfulness while my heart was arranging for a 30-piece payout. You did it, too. We do it every time we sin. And, yet, it is sinners who Christ Jesus came into the world to save (1 Timothy 1:15) — willingly (John 10:17-18) and with great love (Ephesians 2:1-5).
The startling, glorious irony is that our salvation came by means of betrayal. Jesus doesn’t end betrayal by standing over it in judgment but by entering into and absorbing its pain.
“When he was reviled, he did not revile in return” (1 Peter 2:23)
If you have been betrayed, you know the intense desire for payback. It feels unjust to hold back retribution. Forgiveness only increases the weight of the injustice because it comes at a cost to the offended. The offended bears the injustice so the offender can be forgiven. It is a costly exchange. This is why Luther called the Cross, “The Great Exchange.” In his betrayal, trial and death, Jesus felt the full force of our rejection so we could feel his unreserved acceptance.
When we trust this, we receive more than comfort — we find the resources to forgive, even our friends, without retribution (Ephesians 4:32). The comfort of God — who forgives our betrayal, sees our heartache and holds our tears in a bottle (Psalm 56:8) — far outweighs the comfort of vindication. The death of Christ marks not only the death of death, but also the death of retribution and the rebirth of loyalty that remains sturdy when challenged.