|Brian P. Stoffregen Exegetical Notes at|
In looking at the four passion narratives, I like to emphasize the differences. (While there are many similarities in the accounts, if that's all a preacher preached on, it would be the same sermon each year -- even when reading from different gospels. It's the difference that gives the evangelists their unique flavors.)
There are five events that Matthew has added to Mark's passion narrative:
By centering on Judas' death (27:3-10), I hope to illustrate a number of the major themes in Matthew's passion.
Judas is described as "his betrayer" (paradidomi). We, the readers, have known that since Judas was first mentioned in Matthew (10:4). The same word was used even earlier in terms of John the Baptist's "arrest" (4:12).
This word is used 15 times in Matthew's passion.
The betrayal (handing over) was predicted by Jesus (26:2, see also 20:18, 19). A major theme throughout the passion is that events happen as predicted by scriptures (or Jesus). Jesus has said that he would be betrayed -- and it will happen.
In Matthew, Judas goes to the chief priests and asks, "What will you give me if I betray him [Jesus] to you?" (26:15) Judas betrays Jesus out of selfish interests: what he can get out of it. (How similar is this to the critique of worship services: I didn't get anything out of it?")
Judas' self-centeredness is in profound contrast to the woman who anoints Jesus' head (26:6-13), which comes just before Judas makes his selfish request. However, in the anointing story, all of the disciples are concerned with money -- wasting the money anointing Jesus, rather than helping the poor. (One could present the contrast between Judas and the lady in a sermon.)
Patte (The Gospel According to Matthew) suggests that just as the Jewish leaders find the Passover not a time to serve God, a hindrance to their main goal of killing Jesus; so concern for money and the poor by the disciples blinds them to what is most important at this time: ministering to Jesus and honoring him. Precisely at the festival when the leaders should be serving God, they aren't, but Jesus will. He seeks to do God's will, not his own.
Patte also suggests that the reason that her deed will always be part of the gospel is "because she honors Jesus as the Son of man who will die during the Passover (and not as one who has super-natural power or is triumphant.) Consequently, those who will preach the gospel in the whole world will also proclaim in their own words that Jesus needs to be honored as the one who died during Passover, as the crucified" [p. 359].
Throughout the passion, the only positive responses to Jesus are by women!
Judas is given thirty pieces of silver (26:15b, 27:3), which recalls Zechariah 11:12. Quoting again from Patte:
Judas' action fulfills a prophecy from Scripture! Judas' betrayal shows that it is God who is in control of the unfolding of the events of the Passion. Judas actually deprives the Jewish leaders of any control over the timing of the arrest and death of Jesus! They had decided this would not take place during the feast (26:5). But now it is Judas who will choose the time: "And from that moment he sought an opportunity to betray him" (26:16). Through Judas' betrayal, God manifests complete control over time, just as the prophecies also express. [p. 360]
It is a major theme throughout the passion that human attempts at controlling events fail. God (and the prophecies) will be fulfilled. "But all this has taken place, so that the scriptures of the prophets may be fulfilled" (26:56a) as well as Jesus' predictions. To highlight some of the human attempts that fail because they were not part of God's places (or predictions of what would happen):
the human plans |.| what actually happened
Patte applies the failure of human attempts directly to the disciples:
Throughout the Passion the disciples will be stripped of anything that leads to self-confidence that they themselves could be faithful disciples. They will need to acknowledge that their ability to be disciples depends totally upon help from God (or Jesus) -- the condition for being faithful disciples. But simultaneously this passage is a warning [26:34-35]. Through their participation in the Passion they might even lose their will to be disciples, their will to be associated with Jesus. In sum, instead of making them faithful disciples, the Passion could have the opposite result, making them lose their discipleship, denying Jesus, if they refuse to give up the self-confidence that they have what it takes to be faithful disciples (as Peter does in 26:33). This is what the next passage, 26:36-46, further expresses by showing what one needs to do in order to retain their identity as disciples (and as Son of God) through the Passion. [p. 367]
His comment on the next section is that as Jesus makes his own will the will of his Father, the disciples are unable to do that.
There is an interpretation, which I think this supports, that Judas acted to try and force Jesus to lead a revolution against the Romans. By pushing Jesus into a corner, by betraying him and having him arrested, Jesus would be forced to fight back -- and perhaps call down the legions of angels, which he could do. If Jesus had been in the temple day after day, I would have thought that the religious leaders could have recognized him. They wouldn't need Judas to point him out with a kiss -- unless Judas want to be there to see the "fireworks" that he expected Jesus to do when he was forced to defend himself.
Seeing Jesus condemned showed Judas that his thinking about his plan had failed -- although, as Jesus had predicted, events were happening as God had planned. The Judas-anticipated king who would condemn and inflict suffering becomes the godly King who is condemned and receives suffering.
Whether or not this was part of Judas' thinking, it is often part of our thinking. Don't we often want God to do what we want God to do? We might pray, "If you really are God, you'll do this or that for me?"
Some commentaries argue that Judas' repentance (metamelomai 27:3) is not true repentance (metanoeo), but simply feeling sorry or remorse for what he had done. I agree with Boring (Matthew, NIB) that that is not Judas' failing. Matthew uses metamelomai in a positive sense (21:30-32). Boring goes on to write:
Although Matthew is obviously contrasting Peter in the previous scene [Peter's denial] and Judas in this one, the difference between them is more than terminological. (The word used for genuine repentance, metanoeo, is not used of Peter either.) From Matthew's point of view, what Judas lacks and what Peter has is that fundamental reorientation from the kingdom of this world, represented by thinking human things, to the kingdom represented by Jesus ("thinking divine things"; cf. 16:21-23).
... For Matthew, the story becomes another expression of the conflict of kingdoms, an illustration of how terrible it is to cast one's lot with the wrong side (12:25-30).... Unlike Peter, Judas does not return to the community of disciples, where forgiveness abounds (18:21-35), but dies in private despair. [pp. 483-4]
Judas repents, but he goes to the wrong people for forgiveness. Only in Matthew does Jesus indicate that the cup at the Last Supper is poured out for the forgiveness of sins (26:28). This comes after Jesus indicates that he knows that Judas will betray him! Certainly Judas was there to hear this word of promise about forgiveness.
However, Judas goes to the religious leaders with his sin of betraying innocent blood (27:4). They aren't interested in forgiving him. Can we equate the religious leaders with the Law -- which does not have the power to forgive, and the Christian community which has been given the power to forgive? And Judas went to the wrong one for forgiveness?
Besides his unwillingness to seek forgiveness from God and the Christian community, Judas was also unable to forgive himself, thus the hanging. One's self is often the hardest person to forgive. Self-forgiveness often begins with being forgiven and accepted by others.
We might ask our congregations, if Judas had returned to our church with such repentance and remorse, would we have forgiven him and accepted him back into the fellowship?
Judas declares that Jesus is innocent (27:4, athoos -- a variant reading has "righteous" dikaios). The innocence of Jesus is repeated in two of the other Matthean additions. Pilate's wife, from her dream, tells Pilate to have nothing to do with that innocent (dikaios) man (27:19). When Pilate washes his hands, he says: "I am innocent (athoos) of this man's blood" (27:25).
The fact that the religious leaders cannot put the money back into the temple treasury because it was "blood money," suggests that they too recognize that it had been used to betray innocent blood. The blood money is used to fulfill another prophetic utterance.
In Matthew's narrative, the Twelve apostles are separated from disciples in 10:1. In 10:4 we are told that Judas Iscariot is the one who betrayed him. Within the opening verses of that chapter, the number twelve is mentioned three times (1, 2, & 5).
In 19:28, a verse found only in Matthew, Jesus says: "Truly I tell you, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man is seated on the throne of his glory, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes if Israel." Who are the twelve who will be sitting on these thrones. I think that Jesus is speaking to the twelve apostles. Whether Jesus knew about the betrayal at that time or not, we don't know. However, Matthew has let us, the readers, know that Judas will betray Jesus -- and that he is one of the Twelve. Are we to expect Judas to be sitting on one of those thrones? If so, we might believe that either Judas could have repented and returned to the Twelve and been restored to them, as Peter was after denying Jesus; or that part of the "renewal of all things, when the Son of Man is seated on the throne of glory," Judas, even with all his sins: greed, betrayal, suicide, will be restored to the Twelve and seated on his throne. If this is so, I wonder how he would judge others whose sins were not as destructive to the Son of Man as his was?
Boring (Matthew, NIB) concludes his comments on 27:11-25 with:
In the light of Matthew's overall dualistic theological perspective of the alternative kingdoms represented by Jesus and the rulers of this world (both Jewish and Gentile), one should see this scene as the confrontation of two kingdoms. These two kingdoms are not, however, Rome and the kingdom of God (cf. Revelation), but the options of royal power exerted through violence and the authority and power of God present in meekness, the latter represented by Jesus and the former by both the Jewish and the Gentile rulers. It is the Jewish crowds who stand before the decision here, and they opt for rule by violence. Jesus' kingship represents God's kingdom, but they reject it. This is immediately dramatized (vv. 27-31a). [p. 487]
He picks up this theme in his final comments on the passion (vv. 64-65):
As the story moves toward Easter morning, two affirmations about the future are juxtaposed: Jesus' own prediction of the resurrection and the Jewish leaders' united front trying to guarantee that it could not happen. The two kingdoms that have stood over against each other throughout Matthew await the third and decisive day. [p. 497]
We've read the end of the story. We know who wins in the end.
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