Pope Benedict XVI- Audiences
On Judas Iscariot and Matthias
"Never Despair of God's Mercy"
H.H. Benedict XVI
October 18, 2006
Dear Brothers and Sisters:
On completing today the review of the Twelve Apostles called
directly by Jesus during his earthly life, we cannot fail to mention
the one who always appears in the last place: Judas Iscariot. We
want to associate him with the person who was later chosen to
substitute him, namely, Matthias.
The name Judas alone arouses among Christians an instinctive
reaction of reprobation and condemnation. The meaning of the name
"Iscariot" is controversial: The most used explanation says that it
means "man from Queriyyot," in reference to his native village,
located in the surroundings of Hebron, mentioned twice in sacred
Scripture (cf. Joshua 15:25; Amos 2:2).
Others interpret it as a variation of the term "hired assassin," as
if it alluded to a guerrilla armed with a dagger, called "sica" in
Latin. Finally, some see in the label the simple transcription of a
Hebrew-Aramaic root that means: "He who was going to betray him."
This mention is found twice in the fourth Gospel, that is, after a
confession of faith by Peter (cf. John 6:71) and later during the
anointing at Bethany (cf. John 12:4).
Other passages show that the betrayal was underway, saying: "He who
betrayed him," as happened during the Last Supper, after the
announcement of the betrayal (cf. Matthew 26:25) and later at the
moment Jesus was arrested (cf. Matthew 26:46.48; John 18:2.5).
However, the lists of the twelve recall the betrayal as something
that already occurred: "Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him," says Mark
(3:19); Matthew (10:4) and Luke (6:16) use equivalent formulas.
The betrayal, as such, took place in two moments: first of all in
its planning phase, when Judas comes to an agreement with Jesus'
enemies for 30 pieces of silver (cf. Matthew 26:14-16), and later in
its execution with the kiss he gave the master in Gethsemane (cf.
Anyway, the evangelists insist that his condition of apostle
corresponded fully to him: He is repeatedly called "one of the
twelve" (Matthew 26:14.47; Mark 14:10.20; John 6:71) or "of the
number of the twelve" (Luke 22:3).
Moreover, on two occasions, Jesus, addressing the apostles and
speaking precisely of him, indicates him as "one of you" (Matthew
26:21; Mark 14:18; John 6:70; 13:21). And Peter would say of Judas
"he was numbered among us, and was allotted his share in this
ministry" (Acts 1:17).
He is, therefore, a figure belonging to the group of those whom
Jesus had chosen as companions and close collaborators. This poses
two questions when it comes to explaining what happened. The first
consists in asking ourselves how it was possible that Jesus chose
this man and trusted him.
In fact, though Judas is the group's administrator (cf. John 12:6b;
13:29a), in reality he is also called "thief" (John 12:6a). The
mystery of the choice is even greater, as Jesus utters a very severe
judgment on him: "Woe to that man by whom the son of man is
betrayed!" (Matthew 26:24).
This mystery is even more profound if one thinks of 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'" (Matthew 27:3-4). Though he departed
afterward to hang himself (cf. Matthew 27:5), it is not for us to
judge his gesture, putting ourselves in God's place, who is
infinitely merciful and just.
A second question affects the motive of Judas' behavior: Why did he
betray Jesus? The question raises several theories. Some say it was
his greed for money; others give an explanation of a messianic
nature: Judas was disappointed on seeing that Jesus did not fit the
program of the political-military liberation of his country.
In fact, the Gospel texts insist on another aspect: John says
expressly that "the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas
Iscariot, Simon's son, to betray him" (John 13:2); in the same way,
Luke writes: "Satan entered into Judas called Iscariot, who was of
the number of the twelve" (Luke 22:3).
In this way, one goes beyond historical motivations, explaining what
occurred by basing it on Judas' personal responsibility, who yielded
miserably to a temptation of the evil one. In any case, Judas'
betrayal continues to be a mystery. Jesus treated him as a friend
(cf. Matthew 26:50), but in his invitations to follow him on the
path of the beatitudes he did not force his will or prevent him from
falling into Satan's temptations, respecting human freedom.
In fact, the possibilities of perversion of the human heart are
truly many. The only way to prevent them consists in not cultivating
a view of life that is only individualistic, autonomous, but in
always placing oneself on the side of Jesus, assuming his point of
We must try, day after day, to be in full communion with him. Let us
recall that even Peter wanted to oppose him and what awaited him in
Jerusalem, but he received a very strong rebuke: "Get behind me,
Satan! For you are not on the side of God, but of men" (Mark
After his fall, Peter repented and found forgiveness and grace.
Judas also repented, but his repentance degenerated into despair and
in this way it became self-destruction. It is an invitation for us
to always remember what St. Benedict says at the end of Chapter 5 --
fundamental -- of his Rule: "Never despair of God's mercy." In fact,
"God is greater than our hearts," as St. John says (1 John 3:20).
Let us remember two things. The first: Jesus respects our freedom.
The second: Jesus waits for us to have the disposition to repent and
to be converted; he is rich in mercy and forgiveness. In fact, when
we think of the negative role Judas played, we must frame it in the
higher way with which God disposed the events.
His betrayal led to the death of Jesus who transformed this
tremendous torment into a space of salvific love and in self-giving
to the Father (cf. Galatians 2:20; Ephesians 5:2.25). The verb
"betray" is the Greek version which means "to give up." At times its
subject is also God himself in person: Out of love, he "gave up"
Jesus for us all (cf. Romans 8:32). In his mysterious plan of
salvation, God assumes Judas' unjustifiable gesture as the motive
for the total giving up of the Son for the redemption of the world.
On concluding, we wish to recall also he who, after Easter, was
chosen to replace the traitor. In the Church of Jerusalem, two were
put forward to the community and then lots were cast for their
names: "Joseph called Barsabbas, who was surnamed Justus, and
Matthias" (Acts 1:23).
Precisely the latter was chosen, and in this way "he was enrolled
with the eleven apostles" (Acts 1:26). We do not know anything more
about him, with the exception that he was a witness of Jesus' public
life (cf. Acts 1: 21-22), being faithful to him to the end. To the
greatness of his fidelity was added later the divine call to take
Judas' place, as though compensating his betrayal.
We draw a final lesson from here: Although there is no lack of
unworthy and traitorous Christians in the Church, it is up to us to
counterbalance the evil they do with our limpid testimony of Jesus
Christ our lord and savior.
[Translation by ZENIT]
[At the end of the audience, the Holy Father greeted pilgrims in
several languages. In English, he said:]
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
Today I conclude my series of reflections on the Apostles by
speaking of Judas Iscariot, the one who betrayed Jesus. Why did he
do it? Some say he was too fond of money, and the offer of 30 pieces
of silver was too much to resist.
The Gnostic writers say he wanted to liberate Jesus from the
shackles of mortality. But the Gospels tell us that Satan entered
into the heart of Judas. He yielded to a temptation from the evil
one. It is a mistake to think that the great privilege of living in
company with Jesus is enough to make a person holy. Jesus does not
force our will when he invites us to follow him along the path of
The only way to avoid the pitfalls that surround us is to give
ourselves entirely to Jesus, to enter into full communion with him,
so that we think and act as he did, in total obedience to the
Father. God can turn everything to a good purpose. Even Judas'
betrayal became, through divine providence, the occasion for Jesus'
supreme act of love, for the salvation of the world.
Finally, a word about the one who was chosen after the Resurrection
to take the traitor's place, in a sense compensating for what Judas
had done. All we know about Matthias is that he was a witness to the
whole of Jesus' earthly life, and he remained faithful to the end.
We too are called to make reparation for the sins of others by our
faithful witness to Christ.
I welcome the English-speaking pilgrims here today, especially the
Sisters of Providence who have come for the canonization of Mother
Theodore Guérin. I greet also the pilgrims from Africa, Asia,
Britain and Ireland, Scandinavia and the United States of America.
May God pour out his blessings upon all of you, and upon your loved
ones at home.
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