The name "Judas" is a dark one. Mystery surrounds the enigmatic figure of Judas Iscariot. Here are seven things we can learn from former Pope Benedict concerning a man who was both an apostle of Jesus Christ--and the man who betrayed him!
1. The Name "Iscariot"
"The meaning of the name 'Iscariot' is controversial: The more common explanation considers him as a 'man from Kerioth,' referring to his village of origin situated near Hebron and mentioned twice in Sacred Scripture (Gn. 15:25, Am. 2:2). Others interpret it as a variant of the term 'hired assassin,' as if to allude to a warrior armed with a dagger, in Latin, sica.
Lastly, there are those who see in the label a simple inscription of a Hebrew-Aramaic root meaning: 'the one who is to hand him over.' This designation is found twice in the gospel: after Peter's confession of faith (Jn. 6:71) and then in the course of the anointing at Bethany (Jn. 12:4)."
2. An Apostle Who Betrays Jesus?
"The Evangelists insist on the status as an apostle that Judas held in all regards: He is repeatedly called 'one of the twelve' (Mt. 26:14, 47; Mk. 14:10, 20; Jn. 6:71) or 'of the number of the Twelve" (Lk. 22:3)."
"He is therefore a figure belonging to the group of those whom Jesus had chosen as strict companions and collaborators. This brings with it two questions in the attempt to provide an explanation for what happened. The first consists in asking how is it that Jesus had chosen this man and trusted him. In fact, although Judas is the group's bursar (Jn. 12:6b; 13:29a), in reality he is called a 'thief' (Jn. 12:6a)."
"The mystery of the choice remains, all the more since Jesus pronounces a very severe judgment on him: 'Woe to that man by whom the Son of man is betrayed!' (Mt. 26:24)."
3. His Fate
Jesus' choice to make Judas an apostle "darkens the mystery around his eternal fate, knowing that Judas 'repented and brought back the 30 pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders, saying, "I have sinned in betraying innocent blood"' (Mt 27:3-4). Even though he went to hang himself (Mt. 27:5), it is not up to us to judge his gesture, substituting ourselves for the infinitely merciful and just God."
4. Why Judas Chose Evil
"Why does he betray Jesus? The question raises several theories. Some refer to the fact of his greed for money; others hold to an explanation of a messianic order: Judas would have been disappointed at seeing that Jesus did not fit into his program for the political-militaristic liberation of his own nation."
"In fact, the Gospel texts insist on another aspect: John expressly says that 'the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon's son, to betray him' (Jn. 13:2). . . . In this way, one moves beyond historical motivations and explanations based on the personal responsibility of Judas, who shamefully ceded to a temptation of the Evil One."
"The betrayal of Judas remains, in any case, a mystery. Jesus treated him as a friend (Mt. 26:50); however, in his invitations to follow him along the way of the beatitudes, he does not force his will or protect it from the temptations of Satan, respecting human freedom."
5. Our Own Fate
We, too, have free will, and we, too, may choose the path of Judas in betraying Christ.
"The possibilities to pervert the human heart are truly many. The only way to prevent it consists in not cultivating an individualistic, autonomous vision of things, but on the contrary, by putting oneself always on the side of Jesus, assuming his point of view. We must daily seek to build full communion with him."
"Let us remember that . . . after his fall Peter repented and found pardon and grace. Judas also repented, but his repentance degenerated into desperation and thus became self-destructive."
"For us it is an invitation to always remember what St. Benedict says at the end of the fundamental Chapter Five of his Rule: 'Never despair of God's mercy.'"
6. Fighting Judas Today!
"We draw from this a final lesson: While there is no lack of unworthy and traitorous Christians in the Church, it is up to each of us to counterbalance the evil done by them with our clear witness to Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior."
7. How You Can Learn More
Pope Benedict has more to say about Judas Iscariot. To drink deeply from his wisdom, be sure to check out the general audience he gave on the subject, from which the above quotations are taken. General Audience on Judas Iscariot and Matthias, Oct. 18,2006.
Pope Benedict also has an awesome book on Judas--and the rest of the apostles. It's called Jesus, the Apostles, and the Early Church. Finally, if I may make my own small contribution, I have a book on the subject of salvation--a subject with which Judas is intimately connected. The title of the book is The Salvation Controversy.