Judas Iscariot and the Year of Mercy

I can’t help but be filled with compassion for Judas Iscariot in his moment of despair. After betraying Jesus for thirty pieces of silver, he attempted to return the blood money in exchange for his Master, but the chief priests and elders were unmoved. Scripture tells us that Judas then flung the money into the temple, departed, and went off to hang himself (Matthew 27:5). I don’t mean to excuse his actions, but my heart breaks as I imagine that kind of poisonous despair which has one convinced that all is lost.

It brings to mind a time when, unable to bear the weight of despair in my soul, I ran out of church in the middle of Mass. It seems absurdly dramatic now, but I remember with excruciating detail that overwhelming sense of hopelessness.

The celebration of the Mass felt like a wedding to which I was not invited. Surrounded by devoted worshippers and the splendorous grandeur of St Mary of Perpetual Help, I felt unwelcome in my metaphorical tattered garments. I was convinced that I was unloved by God, and I fled from His presence.

Listening to today’s Gospel reading (Matthew 26:14-25), I contemplated the foolishness of Judas in accepting thirty pieces of silver in exchange for Jesus, who chose him to His disciple, to hear the mysteries of God explained, to participate in His ministry, and to witness many miracles.

If we’re honest with ourselves, we, too, have traded true goodness for cheap, trifling goods. N.T. Wright correctly observes: “Made for joy, we settle for pleasure. Made for justice, we settle for vengeance. Made for relationship, we insist on our own way.” But the worst possible trade that we who know Christ can make, is to trade His mercy for despair.

Remorse, anguish, and despair are so very bitter. But how sweet the taste of mercy! Judas wasn’t alone in betraying Jesus. Peter, after pledging his allegiance to his beloved master, denied Him three times. He then wept bitterly, but he never caved to despair. While Judas ended up taking his own life, Peter became a saint. I believe it’s because Peter never lost sight of who Jesus was: Love and Mercy. Sure enough, when the resurrected Jesus asks Peter if he loved Him, three times he boldly responds, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you,” imperfect as his love might be at the time. Not once does Jesus say anything along the lines of, “How dare you say you love me when you denied me three times!” Far from it — Jesus entrusted him with the task of feeding and tending His sheep (John 21:15-17).

How could we not know that Jesus is full of mercy? Pope Francis reminds us in his recent Palm Sunday homily:

Jesus, however, even here at the height of His annihilation, reveals the true face of God, which is mercy. He forgives those who are crucifying Him, He opens the gates of paradise to the repentant thief and He touches the heart of the centurion. If the mystery of evil is unfathomable, then the reality of Love poured out through Him is infinite, reaching even to the tomb and to hell. He takes upon Himself all our pain that He may redeem it, bringing light to darkness, life to death, love to hatred.

Pope Francis has declared 2016 to be the Jubilee Year of Mercy — we are invited to return to and rediscover the mercy of God. It is a mercy that accepts, heals, and transforms. It awakens true hope and true joy.

There was no way Judas could undo his betrayal of Christ (he could not even return the bounty!), but Jesus humbly accepted that betrayal and His resulting death on a cross, and would have forgiven and redeemed him if he’d asked. I don’t know where Judas is, and the Church has been silent on this matter. We don’t know if perhaps he might have repented and accepted Christ’s mercy in his last moments. I really hope he did.

But I know I never again need to flee from the presence of God. Today at Mass I wept as I gazed up at the Crucifix. I looked upon the face of Jesus, and I saw Love and Mercy.

Watercolor; Quote from St. Faustina Kowalska’s diary

14 thoughts on “Judas Iscariot and the Year of Mercy

  1. Liked the post, but I think that the scene with Peter is actually even more poignant in the Greek.
    Rather than boldly professing his love for the Christ, Peter was actually humbled and then restored.
    The English does not do the scene justice, but in the Greek, it was clear that in the first two times, Jesus asked Peter if he loved him with unconditional love (agapao), and Peter could only (i would think ashamedly) answer that he loved Jesus as a brother would (phileo).
    It was only in the third time that Jesus came down to Peter’s level and asked him if he loved him as a brother, which probably evoked the (what i see as anguished) response that “you know I love you (as a brother).
    Despite that – Peter was still restored to ministry and service.
    I marvel at how often we are told that we need to live up to God, forgetting that we never could, and that what we have is simply the result of Him coming down to where we are, and his uplifting of us instead.
    And to think we have the audacity, based on some human impression of holiness and goodness, to make a comparison between ourselves and others and then (pridefully) presume we can live up to His standards to begin with. Lol.
    Jesus loves you very much!
    Beyond your ability to comply.
    He will allure you and you will discover what it means to fall in love with Him (Hosea 2:14)
    Cheers, and take care!
    Happy Easter!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you so much for liking a post on The Ruminant Scribe. It enabled me to find your site and I appreciate your writing. I especially liked that statement: “But the worst possible trade that we who know Christ can make, is to trade His mercy for despair.” How true. Christ came for us to have hope because he vanquished death and hell. There simply is no place in hope for despair to reside, Praise His Holy Name! Blessings to you today.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You’re welcome, Linda. Amen! We must always say no to despair. I’m wondering if Satan entered Judas not just to tempt him to betray Jesus, but also to keep him trapped in despair even after repenting. Blessings to you this Holy Week!


  3. Wonderful, wonderful post. Especially “Mass felt like a wedding to which I was not invited.” This time two years ago I felt as though the devil was yanking me out of the pew to leave church all throughout Holy Week – but you’re so right. Despite everything despair would have us believe, He loves us and offers us His mercy even at our darkest moments. He even let Peter proclaim his love for Him three times to undo his triple denial! Thanks for sharing this. I needed it today.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much for your comment. Indeed, the times when we most feel like we don’t want to be present at Mass, all the more we should be there. May you have a blessed Holy Week.


    1. When hearing g the scripture read of the betray of Christ for 30 pieces of silver, I was reminded of the Matt 16:26:”for what shall a man profit,if he should gain the whole world,and suffer the loss of his soul?”

      Shine on,


      Liked by 1 person

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