It’s hard to imagine a greater contrast between these two sinners: Judas Iscariot and Mary Magdalene. While Mary wept for her sins, and then lavished Jesus with her love, Judas complained of her extravagance, and then went to betray his Lord.
Mary Is Justified
But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (he who was about to betray him), said, “Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?” But Judas said this, not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief, and having charge of the moneybag he used to help himself to what was put into it.
There were some who said to themselves indignantly, “Why was the ointment wasted like that? For this ointment could have been sold for more than three hundred denarii and given to the poor.” And they scolded her.
Here for the first time we are given a glimpse into the dark abyss of Judas’s heart. The Lord’s repeated references to his suffering had gradually made it clear to Judas that this Jesus would not establish the dreamed-of messianic kingdom in worldly glory, that following him would not lead to the expected riches and honors. He walked beside his Master, brooding in silence, while within him the love of money grew to thieving avarice, and under the reproachful looks and words of the Lord, his selfishness hardened into hatred of Christ. It is true, he still wore the mask of discipleship, but he was incapable of understanding the love that urged Mary. Yet he felt judged in his heart for his stone-hard egotism by her act of dedication, and the poison of his malice burst forth. This attitude of Judas reveals for all time the mystery of the hatred of the world for the church of Christ. The Lord’s enemies feel rebuked by the behavior of his true disciples and so try to get rid of them.
Judas tried in vain to cover his rage with the cloak of cleverly calculated love to the poor. It is true that some of the disciples were thoughtless and foolish enough to agree with him, but the Lord saw through him. He brought Mary’s act of love into the brightest light by saying, “Leave her alone. Why do you trouble her? She has done what she could; she has done a beautiful thing to me.” Oh that we might also receive his praise: “You have done what you could!” Truly, it is little that we can do, but who has really done even the little he can? Won’t our bitterest self-accusations one day be that we have not done what we could? But where perfect love is at work, it does everything it can. And where it does, the Lord himself adds to it far more than we can imagine or understand. He accepts Mary’s loving deed as the anointing of his holy body for its burial and resurrection, and declares that this will be proclaimed by every tongue as long as the world exists. When we refresh someone who is thirsty with a drink of cool water, he looks upon it as done to himself (Matt. 25:35, 40). When we try to do God’s will, urged by love, he says these efforts fulfil the law: “Love is the fulfilling of the law” (Rom. 13:10).
At the Last Judgment all calculating egotists (however hypocritically they still know how to cry, “Lord! Lord!”) will be ordered away with the words, “Depart from me, you cursed” (Matt. 25:41). But those who have lived and died in love will hear the gracious words: “You have done what you could. Enter into the joy of your master” (Matt. 25:23).
Then one of the twelve, whose name was Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and said, “What will you give me if I deliver him over to you?” And they paid him thirty pieces of silver. And from that moment he sought an opportunity to betray him (Matthew 26:14–16).
Is it true that each Christian has a price for which he would sell his Savior? Unfortunately it is only too true in the case of all who are not willing to break with sin. It is true for those whose Christianity only serves to satisfy their earthly desires, or who imagine they are able to combine it with serving the world. We see what this must lead to in the shattering example of Judas.
The closer his relationship with the Lord, the more powerfully did he feel himself compelled to make a quick decision between complete dedication and hostile desertion. Since he did not want to tear his deeply rooted love of self and of the world out of his heart, he was dragged into the camp of the enemy. For the miserable price of a slave, for thirty silver pieces, the once enthusiastic disciple sold his Master! To be sure, the paltry silver pieces were not the real object of his action. Above all he sought to rid himself of this master, who by his constant demand for a complete change of heart and life had become ever more unbearable to him. He sought to acquire a reputation in the eyes of the leaders of his nation and so reach once more a comfortable position in life. Incidentally, his avaricious nature was not averse to making a small profit while doing so. While considering these thoughts, his better self rose up once more against them. Once more a terrible struggle was fought in his breast, but with the sad result that his conscience was finally crushed. Then he went and concluded the hellish agreement.
But the king of heaven and earth, in whose light and love the transfigured earth will one day celebrate its eternal Sabbath, was valued at the paltry price of a slave. What humiliation and outrage he had to endure! He emptied himself and took the form of a servant, and was obedient unto death. Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows. He atoned for our pride and suffered our humiliation. Upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace (Isa. 53:4–5).
But for those of his disciples who thank him from their hearts, who willingly empty themselves of self with him, who break completely with their sin and take upon themselves the form of a servant in devotion to their Master – in short, those who truly believe in him and love him above everything – for them there is no Judas-price in any world for which they might forsake and betray their Savior. History bears witness to this in the joyful death of countless martyrs, who were able to say to their Lord and Master with the psalmist: “Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (Ps. 73:25–26).
How do you stand, my soul, with regard to your sins and to the selling price? Examine yourself carefully. Whoever loves his life will lose it, but whoever loses it for Christ’s sake will keep it (John 12:25).
These two readings are taken from The Crucified Is My Love: Morning and Evening Devotions for the Holy Season of Lent, by Johann Ernst von Holst, available as a free ebook.