We've all been hurt by people we trusted. We have spent time with them and invested some of our most sacred secrets. We trusted them because they showed us reasons why they claimed to love us. And maybe they did love us, but their own selfish reasons of jealousy or disappointment interfered. We know what betrayal feels like because we're human. Maybe we have even been a betrayer.
Jesus and his disciples spend this Wednesday back in Bethany with their friends. Yesterday was a long and trying day and night. Maybe Jesus was thinking more of his disciples’ weariness than his own. Maybe he just needed some down time. For whatever reason, the gospels show only two accounts of what happened that day.
The first was when Jesus, the disciples, and other friends were having dinner at the home of a man named Simon. Like so many other times that are recorded, they were reclining around the table, leaning on pillows and rugs, eating and enjoying each other’s company. If we know anything about Jesus at this point, we can assume he was also using opportunities in conversation to prepare them for what was about to happen to him and to them. During one of these conversations, one of the women there went to Jesus with an alabaster jar of expensive perfume. She opened it and slowly began pouring it on Jesus’ head.
Now this same thing happened just a few days ago at Lazarus’ home where Mary did a similar thing. Both of these acts of honor offended the apostles. These men had been with Jesus for almost three years, living on next to nothing, not knowing where their next meal would come from, going for days without a bath, and God only knows the last time they had a fresh tunic! Why in the world would these women waste so much money, months and months of earnings, to have this spilled all over Jesus, his clothes and the floor?!
Judas Iscariot verbally snapped at Jesus the first time in disgust at this wastefulness, but it seems that this evening, all of the disciples were appalled.
Matthew 26:8-9, “When the disciples saw this, they were indignant. ‘Why this waste?’ they asked. ‘This perfume could have been sold at a high price and the money given to the poor.’” Jesus’ answer was shown with patience. He explained to them that, while they will always have the poor, they will not always have him. Then he said this, “When she poured this perfume on my body, she did it to prepare me for burial,” verse 11.
Is it just me, or do the women spending time with Jesus that week understand more of what is about to happen than his own apostles? They believe he is going to die. Why else would both of them risk that high-dollar luxury item? It’s probably the only thing of luxury they owned. Maybe it was like your one Coach bag that you only pull out for special occasions. Or maybe you have your own expensive bottle of perfume that you dare use only a drop of on those rare date nights with your husband. Maybe it's that leather jacket you bought on your trip to Italy and keep in the back of your closet. You'd never dream of wearing it if there's even the slightest chance of rain for fear of ruining it with just one drop of water (okay, maybe that's just me!). Whatever your most expensive, prized luxury piece is—what possible reason could make you rip it open, spill it or destroy it, never to get it back, and be completely honored to do so?
These women knew in the depths of their hearts that Jesus was the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of the Living God! They loved him so deeply. They believed when he said he was going to die that it would be so.
Being women and caretakers of their households, they understood the traditions involved in preparing loved ones’ bodies for burial. Since embalming was not available then, all they could do for a corpse was to pour herbs and oil on it and wrap it tightly so that when the odor did start to escape, it would be somewhat less repulsive. The more you prepared the body, the better it was for its family members.
The faith of these women that week was shown in giving Jesus everything they had and expecting nothing in return. They were also prepared to give him more. They did not understand the resurrection yet. They definitely didn’t understand the suffering that was about to happen, but they did understand that God the Father delivered on his promise all those years ago. They knew he sent them the Messiah, the Son of Man, the Savior of the world, and they were actually in his presence! They had fallen deeply in love with the King of kings and desired that his body be respected and honored after his death.
But for Judas, this was the moment he decided all this was futile. How stupid can these women be! So much money down the drain, and for what? If Jesus really was the Christ, he wouldn’t let the rulers kill him. He would just call the angels to rescue him. And if he wasn’t the Christ, none of it matters anyway!
After dinner that evening, Judas snuck out of the house and started making his way back to the city. Would the guards even let him in the palace? He had to get to Caiaphas. He knew they’d been looking to arrest Jesus, and Judas knew he could be the ticket they needed, if only they’re willing to pay for it. And he thinks they will. He holds the winning lottery ticket on this one.
Along the way, he mutters to himself how ridiculous the last two years of his life had been. He’s done living in squalor. He starts making his way on the main road, passing Jewish families bedding their children down for the night. Many small fires are burning to keep people warm in the cool night air. The Passover is right around the corner, and Judas has never seen so many people packed in together! Some of them even recognize him as being with Jesus and wave in friendliness. Others come up to him and ask where Jesus is. He brushes them off and keeps moving toward the palace.
He’s dusty, perturbed, and smells a little rank since he didn’t take time to bathe after dinner. Would the guards even let him in? When he reached the doors and told them his plan, they lead the way. Caiaphas and the chief priests are gathered together in the assembly discussing possible scenarios to arrest Jesus when in walks one of Jesus’ own chosen few. At first they turn their noses up and step back from this filthy, lesser Jew. How did he get in here?! When Judas starts speaking, they begin to walk slowly toward him. Could this be possible? This is the perfect answer to their dilemma. Sending their own spies yesterday to try to trick Jesus didn't work at all. But having a spy within Jesus' own inner circle?! What a pleasant surprise that must have been. Not only did this Judas tell them he would gladly give Jesus over to them, he would do it for only 30 pieces of silver. They would have most likely paid much much more. But to Judas, 30 pieces was more than he had seen in years! They agreed immediately and paid him right there on the spot.
"So they counted out for him thirty silver coins. From then on Judas watched for an opportunity to hand him over." Mark 26:15b-16.
At last, they have a solid plan!
Judas had to walk back to Bethany hiding that bag of coins. He walked passed the sleeping Jewish children, the smoky smells of freshly prepared breads and foods and the kind, smiling faces who wished him well. If they only knew.
With the wafting smell of perfume still lingering in the air, Judas quietly laid his head on his pillow, not very far from the One he had just betrayed.