Commentary on Matthew 26:14-25
The stage is being set for the final drama of Jesus’ mission. Judas has gone to the chief priests to make a deal for handing Jesus over to them. This term ‘handing over’ is like a refrain all through the Gospel and reaches a climax here. John the Baptist was handed over. Now we see Jesus being handed over – the term occurs three times in today’s passage. Later, the followers of Jesus will also be handed over into the hands of those who want to put an end to their mission.
Judas sells his master, hands him over, for 30 pieces of silver. Only Matthew mentions the actual sum given to Judas. The sum derives from a passage in Zechariah (11:11-13), where it is the wages paid to the shepherd (Zechariah himself) rejected by the people. He is then told by God to throw the money into the Temple treasury as a sign of God’s rejecting those who reject him. (Judas, too, will throw back the money to the priests after realising what he has done.)
What people will do for money! Judas is not alone. What he did is happening every day. Perhaps I, too, have betrayed and handed over Jesus more than once.
On the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, Jesus’ disciples ask him where he wants to celebrate the Passover. Little do they know the significance of this Passover for Jesus – and for them.
The Feast of Unleavened Bread and the Passover are closely linked but there is a distinction between them. The Passover was the commemoration of the Israelites being liberated from slavery in Egypt, their escape through the Red Sea (the Sea of Reeds?) and the beginning of their long trek to the Promised Land. The feast began at sunset after the Passover lamb had been sacrificed in the temple on the afternoon of the 14th day of the month Nisan. Associated with this on the same evening was the eating of unleavened bread – the bread that Jesus would use when he said over it “This is my Body”. The eating of this bread continued for a whole week (to Nisan 21) as a reminder of the sufferings the Israelites underwent and the hastiness of their departure. It was a celebration of thanks to God for the past and of hope for the future.
Jesus tells the disciples they are to contact a man who will provide all that they need for a Passover meal.
During the meal Jesus drops the bombshell: “One of you is about to betray me (in the Greek, ‘hand me over’). It is revealing that none of them points a finger at someone else. “Is it I, Lord?” Each one realises that he is a potential betrayer of Jesus. And, in fact, in the midst of the crisis they will all abandon him.
Nor is it one of his many enemies who will hand Jesus over. No, it is one of the Twelve, it is someone who has dipped his hand into the same dish with Jesus, a sign of friendship and solidarity.
All of this has been foretold in the Scriptures but how sad it is for the person who has to take this role, even though it is a role he has deliberately chosen. There is a certain cynicism when Judas asks with an air of injured innocence, “Not I, Rabbi, surely?” “They are your words,” is Jesus’ brief reply.
The whole approaching drama is now set in motion.
Let us watch it carefully during the coming three days not just as spectators but as participants. We too have so often betrayed Jesus, we too have so often broken bread with Jesus and perhaps have sold him for money, out of ambition, out of greed, out of anger, hatred, revenge or even violence for our own personal gain.
We can, like Judas, either abandon him in despair or, like Peter, come back to him with tears of repentance.