February 24, 2006

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

Jesus in the Gospels: He foretells betrayal

See Matthew 26:20-25, Mark 14:17-21, Luke 22:21-23, John 13:21-30

All four Gospels tell us that Jesus foretold who would betray him. He knew who it was, and Judas knew, but the other Apostles did not.

Imagine the scene: After Jesus washed the Apostles’ feet, they settled down for the Passover meal. They would have been reclining behind a low table laid out in the form of a horseshoe, with the center open so the dishes could be served. Jesus was in the middle, in the place of honor, and apparently John was on one side of Jesus and Peter on the other. Judas may have been seated next to Peter or John.

The Jewish Passover Seder begins with the Kiddush blessing over the first of four cups of wine: “Blessed are you, Lord our God, king of the universe, who creates the fruit of the vine.” All would have drunk the wine.

Then Jesus suddenly told them, “One of you will betray me, one who is eating with me.” The Apostles could only stare at one another in disbelief. Which of them could do that? They began to say to him, “Surely it is not I,” Judas along with the rest.

With everyone speaking at once, the others didn’t notice that he replied to Judas, “You have said so.” It was the same response he would later give to the high priest, who asked if he was the Christ, and to Pilate, who asked if he was the king of the Jews.

Jesus said about his betrayer that it would be better for that man if he had never been born, a statement that many have taken to mean that Judas had condemned himself to hell. However, the Church has never stated that Judas, or anyone else for that matter, is in hell.

When Jesus went on to say that his betrayer was one who had dipped with him into the dish, perhaps those reclining further away from Jesus breathed a bit easier. There were a number of dishes on the table, as the Passover ritual required, so apparently the traitor was one of the three of four Apostles nearest Jesus.

Jesus was perhaps leaning forward at this point, so Peter signaled behind his back to John to find out who the betrayer was. When John asked him, Jesus said quietly that it would be the one to whom he handed a morsel after he had dipped it into a sauce. Such a gesture would not have been unusual, so no one else knew what it meant when he gave the morsel to Judas.

When Judas took the morsel, John’s Gospel says, Satan entered him. Satan had been absent “for a time,” Luke’s Gospel told us (Lk 4:13), since Jesus had expelled him in the desert. Now that time had come as he entered Judas and would soon be tempting Jesus again.

Judas took the morsel and left the room. “What you are going to do, do quickly,” Jesus called to him. †


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