The Price of Silver

Then one of the Twelve—the one called Judas Iscariot— went to the chief priests and asked, “What are you willing to give me if I hand him over to you?”

So they counted out for him thirty silver coins. From then on Judas watched for an opportunity to hand him over.
MATTHEW 26:14-16

WEDNESDAY WAS PROBABLY THE BEST DAY FOR JUDAS TO SLIP away from Jesus and the other disciples. It was the day Jesus chose to remain in Bethany, away from the temple, to rest and remain in prayer.

Judas, the keeper of the purse, could find any number of reasons to go back into the city alone. Perhaps he was sent to purchase the sacrificial lamb for the next day’s Passover feast. So he goes and is unsuspected by his friends.

On a bright spring day Judas walks to the temple with darkness in his heart. The direction of the political winds is easy to detect. Everyone in power wants Jesus dead. Jesus himself has predicted he will be crucified within the next couple of days.

Judas easily foresees that the three years he has invested in following the Messiah will be wasted. Worse, if he is indicted as one of the followers, Judas himself might die.

He has made his decision. It is time to leave this sinking ship. And while he is jumping overboard, he might as well get what he can. Even better, if the religious authorities pay him to betray Jesus, they can’t very well come back later and prosecute him as a follower.

Judas finds a gathering of chief priests, the men who head the temple rituals and administration, order and laws. It is not a formal gathering, where Sanhedrin officially meet to try criminal cases. Instead, they are deep in discussions that must not be recorded by any scribe. Their priority issue, of course, is this prophet from Galilee who threatens each of these areas of temple jurisdiction. He must be stopped. But he is too popular. If he is taken publicly, the people will riot. Pilate will send in his troops. How can he be taken in secret?

Judas approaches.

Is he calm and smug as he faces the most powerful men in Jerusalem? Apprehensive? Expecting to be treated as a hero?

To their great relief, Judas offers a solution. Yet, even they find it repugnant that this man is willing to betray his best friend. They could understand if Judas gave an ideological disagreement as his reason—heated passion, friends who have become enemies over fundamental beliefs—this they could almost respect.

But when they fail to mention a reward, Judas nakedly requests money. He is not a man deciding it is important to save Israel by stopping the rebel, but a base opportunist. He is someone selling himself as well as his best friend.

Their relief is mixed with scorn. Judas probably would have accepted five or ten pieces, but in contempt, as much of Judas as of Jesus, they offer thirty.

Thirty pieces of silver. It is the legal price of a slave.

Later they can calm their consciences by telling themselves that by purchasing Jesus like any other slave, there is some legality in handing him over to the Roman authorities.

Thirty pieces of silver. At this price, Judas is not joined in their cause and does not become an associate of the powerful and elite, as perhaps he had hoped. He is now a contemptible slave trader, a hireling.

There is irony, of course, that Jesus was paid for out of the temple treasury, with silver that had been marked for the purchase of sacrifices. And irony that Jesus, who took the role of servant for us all, was purchased for the price of a slave.

As for Judas, who will hang himself before Jesus is crucified, thirty pieces of silver is not only the price of slavery to greed and ambition and self-preservation, but the value of his own cheapened life.

From The Carpenter’s Cloth: Christ’s Journey to the Cross and Beyond by Sigmund Brouwer

Taken from