The following are excerpts from the “Homily on the Betrayal of Judas,” given by St. John Chrysostom on Maundy (Holy) Thursday in 388 AD.
Today, beloved, our Lord Jesus Christ was betrayed. It was on this approaching evening that the Jews seized him and took Him away. But do not be dejected, hearing that Jesus was betrayed; rather, be dejected and weep bitterly — not over Jesus Who was betrayed, but over the traitor, Judas. For, indeed, the One Who was betrayed saved the whole world, while the one who betrayed Him lost his own soul. And the One Who was betrayed is seated at the right hand of the Father, while the one who betrayed Him is now in hades, awaiting the inevitable punishment. Thus, weep and moan for his sake; mourn for his sake, since even our Master shed tears on his account. Seeing him, Jesus was troubled and said: "One of you shall betray Me" (Jn. 13:21). Oh, how great is our Master’s compassion! The One Who was betrayed grieved for the one who betrayed Him. Seeing him, Jesus was troubled and said: "One of you shall betray Me." Why was He disheartened? In order to show His tender love and, at the same time, to teach us that it is altogether fitting to mourn, not for the one enduring evil, but for the one committing it. Committing evil is worse than enduring it; or rather, enduring evil is not evil, but committing it is evil. While enduring evil procures us the Kingdom of Heaven, committing evil results in Gehenna and punishment for us. For "Blessed," says the Lord, "are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven" (Mt. 5:10). Do you see how enduring evil has as its recompense and reward the Kingdom of Heaven?
"Then one of the twelve, called Judas Iscariot, went unto the chief priests, and said unto them, 'What will ye give me, and I will deliver Him unto you?'" (Mt.. 26:14–15). These words seem to be clear and not to hint at anything more, but if you carefully examine each word, you will find deep meaning and a great deal to contemplate. First, the time. The Evangelist does not indicate it without cause. He does not simply say, “One of the twelve went,” but adds, "Then one of the twelve … went." Then. Tell me, when? And why does he indicate the time? What does he want to teach me? He does not say "Then" for no reason: speaking by the Spirit, he does not say anything at random or to no end. Therefore, what does this “then” mean? Before that time, before that hour, a harlot came with an alabaster box of ointment and poured the oil onto the head of the Lord. She displayed great service; she displayed great faith, great obedience, and great piety. She was turned from her former life and became better and wiser. And when the harlot had repented, when she had been drawn to the Master, then the disciple betrayed his Teacher. Thus, the Evangelist said "then", so that you not accuse the Teacher of weakness when you see the disciple betraying Him. For the power of the Teacher was such that He drew even harlots to proper obedience.
Why then, you say, was He Who won over harlots not able to win over His disciple? He had the power to win over His disciple, but He did not wish to make him good by force or to forcibly draw him to Himself. "Then he went." In this “went” there is not a little matter for contemplation: for he was not summoned by the chief priests, he was not constrained or forced. Rather, of himself and of his own accord, he gave birth to his intention and brought forth his treachery, without any counselor in his wickedness.
"What will ye give me and I will deliver Him unto you?" Tell me, did Christ teach you that? Did He not restrain in advance your covetous intention, saying: "Provide neither gold, nor silver, nor brass in your purses" (Matt. 10:9)? Did He not continually advise this, and also say: "If someone shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also?" (Mt. 5:39) "What will ye give me and I will deliver Him unto you?" Oh, what madness! Tell me, for what? With what small or great accusation do you betray the Teacher? That He granted you power over demons? That He granted you the power to put an end to sicknesses? To cleanse lepers? To raise the dead? That He brought an end to the tyranny of death? For these benefactions you give this recompense? "What will ye give me and I will deliver Him unto you?" Oh, what madness! Or rather, what covetousness! For it is covetousness that produced all this evil: lusting after money, he betrayed the Teacher. Such is the root of this evil; worse than the devil, it excites to frenzy the souls it has conquered and renders them oblivious to everyone, both to themselves and to their neighbors, as well as to the laws of nature, driving them out of their minds and making them insane. See how much it cast out from the soul of Judas: the fellowship, the intimacy, the common table, the miracles, the instruction, the counsel, the admonitions — all of that was then cast into oblivion by covetousness. Thus, Paul rightly said: "The love of money is the root of all evil" (I Tim. 6:10).
I have said all this so that no one will accuse Christ, saying: “Why did He not change Judas? Why did He not make him sensible and good?” How ought Judas to have been made good? By force or voluntarily? If by force, he would not have become better, for no one becomes good by force. But if, by his own deliberate choice, Judas had wanted to, then Christ would have used all means to amend his will and intent. But if he did not want to take the medicine, it is not the Physician Who is at fault but the one who evaded the treatment. Look at how much Christ did in order to win him over and save him: He taught him all wisdom by deeds and by words; He placed him above the demons; He prepared him to perform numerous miracles; He inspired fear in him with the threat of hell; He impelled him forward with the promise of the Kingdom; He continually censured his unspeakable plans, without making them public; He washed his feet along with the others and shared His table with him. He did not leave anything undone, either small or great, but Judas of his own free will remained uncorrected.
But it is time then to approach that fearful table. Therefore, let us all approach with fitting discretion and sobriety. And let no one be Judas any longer; let no one be wicked; let no one possess venom, bearing one thing in his mouth and another in his mind. Christ is present, and He Who set in order that meal of old also sets this one in order now. For it is not a man who causes the elements that are set forth to become the Body and Blood of Christ, but Christ Himself, Who was crucified for our sake. Fulfilling the figure, the priest stands and utters the words. But the power and the grace belong to God. This is My Body, the priest says. These words transform the elements set forth; and just as the words "Increase and multiply and fill the earth" (Gen. 1:28) were said once, but throughout all time they give our nature the power to beget children, so also from that time until now and until His Coming, these words that were said once accomplish the perfect Sacrifice on each altar table in the churches.
Therefore, let no one hide festering sores within; let no one be filled with wickedness; let no one have venom in his thoughts, lest he partake unto condemnation. For truly it was after Judas had received the Holy Gifts that the devil fell upon him, out of contempt not for the Body of the Lord but for Judas, on account of his shamelessness — so that you understand that the devil especially falls upon and repeatedly attacks those who partake of the Holy Mysteries unworthily, as with Judas at that time. For honors benefit those who are worthy, but honors cast into greater torment those who enjoy them unworthily. I do not say these things to frighten you, but in order to warn you. Therefore, let no one be Judas; let no one that enters have the venom of wickedness. The sacrifice is spiritual food; and just as bodily food that enters a stomach having foul juices makes the illness even worse — not because of its own nature but because of the sickness of the stomach—so also does it usually happen with the spiritual Mysteries. For they also, when they enter a soul that is full of wickedness, ruin and destroy it even more—not on account of their own nature but on account of the sickness of the soul that receives them.
Therefore, let no one have evil thoughts within, but let us purify our mind, for we are truly drawing near to the spotless sacrifice. Let us make our soul holy; it is possible for this to happen even in a single day. How, and in what way? If you have anything against your enemy, expel your anger, treat your wound, put an end to your enmity, so that you may receive healing from the holy table — for you are approaching the fearful and holy sacrifice. Stand in awe before the meaning of this sacrifice. The slain Christ is laid out before us. On what account was He slain and why? In order to make peace between heaven and the earth, in order to make you a friend of the angels, in order to reconcile you entirely to God, to make you, an enemy and opponent, into a friend. He gave His life for those who hate Him, but you continue to hate your fellow servant? And how can you come to the table of peace? He did not decline to die for you, but you cannot bear, for your own sake, to get rid of your anger toward your fellow servant? And what sort of forgiveness are you worthy of?
He abused me, you say, and hurt me a great deal. But what is this? The damage is only to property; by no means did he wound you like Judas did Christ, but nevertheless Christ gave His own Blood for the salvation of those who caused it to pour forth. What can you say is equal to that? If you do not forgive your enemy, you do not hurt him but yourself. You wound him many times in this present life, but you make yourself unpardonable at the judgment in the day to come. For God hates nothing so much as a man who remembers past wrongs, nothing so much as a puffed-up heart and a soul inflamed. Listen to what He says: When you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember, standing high-up at the altar, that your brother has something against you, leave … your gift at the altar and go … be reconciled to your brother, and then … offer your gift (Mt. 5:23–24).
What are you saying? — that I should leave my gift? Yes, for it was for the sake of peace with your brother that this sacrifice took place. Thus, if it is for the sake of peace with your brother that this sacrifice took place, but you have not accomplished that peace, then you take part in the sacrifice to no purpose, the good work is of no benefit to you. Therefore, let us first do that on account of which the sacrifice has been offered, and then we will benefit well from it. The Son of God came down in order to reconcile our nature to the Master. And not only for that did He come down, but also in order to make us who do these things sharers in His name. For He says: "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God" (Mt. 5:9). Do also, according to human strength, that which the only-begotten Son of God did, becoming an agent of peace both for yourself and for others. On account of this, O peacemaker, He even calls you a son of God. And therefore, He did not mention any other commandment regarding the time of the sacrifice except to be reconciled with one’s brother, showing that this is the most important of all.
I had wanted to extend my discourse, but what has been said is enough for those who are attentive, if they call it to mind. Beloved ones, let us continually call to mind these words, the holy greetings, and the awe-inspiring kiss of peace with each other. For this joins our minds together and makes everyone become one Body, since we all also partake of one Body. Let us be joined together in one Body, not mingling with the bodies of one another, but uniting our souls with each other in the bond of love. In this way we will be able to partake with boldness of the meal which is set forth. Even if we possess countless righteous deeds, if we bear remembrance of wrongs, they are all to no avail and in vain, and we will not be able to reap from them any benefit toward our salvation.
Therefore, being conscious of these things, let us bring an end to all anger, and purifying our conscience, let us approach with all meekness and gentleness the table of Christ, to Whom is all glory, honor, and power, together with the Father and the Holy Spirit, now and ever and unto the ages of ages. Amen.