We all want a champion for our cause. But a naked man hanging dead from a cross doesn't look like a winner. Even the disciple Peter rebuked Jesus who foretold of his suffering in Jerusalem by the elders, chief priests, and scribes.
Who among us doesn't pay good money to protect, preserve, and champion our beliefs, our way of life, our prestige? Perhaps Judas sought to protect religiosity or force the hand of Jesus against the Roman occupation or was simply captivated by his own greed when he betrayed Jesus. Regardless, the will of the Father was accomplished through Jesus Christ, the ultimate Champion on the cross.
Fr. Robert Holet, DMin, author of The First and Finest: Orthodox Christian Stewardship as Sacred Offering, discusses Judas's entanglement with money and his ultimate betrayal of an innocent man.
Read the full episode transcript here.
Hollie Benton 0:04
You are listening to Doulos, a podcast of the Ephesus School Network. Doulos offers a scriptural daily bread for God's household and explores servant leadership as an Orthodox Christian. I'm Hollie Benton, Executive Director of the Orthodox Christian Leadership Initiative, and co-host of this Doulos podcast along with Fr. Timothy Lowe. Hello there, Fr. Timothy!
Fr. Timothy Lowe 0:25
Well, hello, Hollie, nice to be with you again.
Hollie Benton 0:27
And our guest today is Fr. Robert Holet, a retired priest of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA. Fr. Robert has a Doctorate of Ministry with a focus of study on Orthodox stewardship. He published The First and Finest: Orthodox Christian Stewardship as Sacred Offering. He partnered with us, the Orthodox Christian Leadership Initiative, to develop Inspiring Generosity and Stewards, a module of Doulos, which is also an intensive program and servant leadership for parish councils or parish leadership teams. And it's just been recently announced that Fr. Robert will be teaching a course in stewardship at St Vladimir's Seminary as part of the new hybrid MA in Christian leadership which launches this fall 2022. Welcome, Father Robert. So glad you've joined us today.
Fr. Robert Holet 1:16
Well, thank you, Hollie. And it's great to speak with you and also with you, Fr. Timothy, a blessing and I look forward to our discussion and what the Lord will have to say to us today.
Hollie Benton 1:25
Thank you, yes. And Fr. Robert, I'd also like our listeners to know that you'll be presenting at this year's National Leadership Conference in September, 2022 at St. Vladimir's Seminary, with opportunities to attend both in person or online. Our listeners can register at orthodoxservantleaders.com. The conference theme this year is Money - the Gospel Changes Everything. And Fr. Robert, you'll be presenting the biblical and patristic foundations of stewardship at this conference event. Could you say just a few words about how the gospel does change everything when it comes to money?
Fr. Robert Holet 2:03
When we look at the teachings of Jesus, first of all, and the broader teachings of the entirety of the Bible, including the Old Testament, it's always just so challenging to hear those words, and to see what he says and to try to put those words into action. We, I think, treat money as a source of security for ourselves, we acquire money because we know it will allow us to get the things that we need in life that we desire. We use that money for those purposes. Also, though, more subtly, I think there's a sense that we gain kind of an identity from our money. People who are poor are often marginalized, almost like they have no identity. We think that somehow if we have money, we have some sort of identity. And of course, Jesus just turns those ideas upside down. Literally, as he did the tables of the money changers in the temple. He turned upside down this idea of money and always talked about dispersing money. So the rich young man comes to him and it says, what must I do? And here go sell all that you have give to the poor, then you'll have eternal life, exchanging money for something which is of deep value of profound value. And I think our study of Judas this time of the year in the New Testament shows us a man who made an exchange of his money for something very precious, that exchange went the wrong way for him. Instead of acquiring grace, and in life, he lost what he had that was so precious. And so these were the dangers that the Lord preached so frequently about in terms of the New Testament about money.
Hollie Benton 3:40
You mentioned Judas and you suggested that we discuss this tragic story of Judas, particularly from Matthew's gospel. The story not only touches on this theme of how the gospel frames our attitude and behavior with respect to money, but it's also a critical story during this upcoming Holy Week for Orthodox Christians. Would you and Fr. Timothy provide some context for this passage we're about to hear in Matthew's Gospel?
Fr. Robert Holet 4:07
If you look at Matthew's treatment of the betrayal of Christ by Judas, there are four different passages that come one after another, interspersed with other aspects of the dialogue. But first, there's this little passage about Judas's agreement with the Pharisees and the religious leaders to betray Jesus, this sort of premeditation, in his mind, this weighing of what shall I do? Then his decision ultimately to betray Jesus for the 30 pieces of silver and then he made this deal. And it's clear from the scriptures that the Pharisees were delighted that here was one who would betray his master in this way. The second was later on in Matthew at the Mystical Supper of all places. This is where Judas is confronted with his desire to betray Jesus by Jesus Himself in this incredible moment when communion with the Lord Jesus was possible. And yet here at this very moment is when he tears himself away, he leaves the mystical supper as it were so that he could go and betray the Lord. The third encounter is, of course, in the garden when the soldiers come, and Judas instead of expressing his solidarity, his love of the Lord, instead, he has this false kiss, this deception that serves as the very signal of the betrayal, of the love of the Lord Jesus Christ. Of course, the last passage, which is the one which is even perhaps the most poignant of all, where Judas goes back to the chief priests and says, I've done wrong. Nevertheless, they do nothing to help him. And he ends up going out, and by all accounts, hanging himself, committing suicide. And so we see this unraveling of the story of Judas ending in this particularly poignant way.
Fr. Timothy Lowe 6:01
Thank you, Fr. Robert. When I've been thinking about all of this, and putting the story of Judas's betrayal and Matthew 26-27. And this is the climax of the whole biblical encounter, starting, from my point of view, from Adam all the way up to here. And so I just exhort our readers to see that whole story. It's playing out before us. And the irony that I find so much in the Gospel of Matthew, of course, is that we're told this beforehand, that this is already going to happen. And everybody is playing their role. And really, like, you know, they're watching a train wreck of huge proportions, both individually for Judas, but then also, as we'll see for the chief priests, and the elders, and then of course, Pilate, and everybody else that seek to wash their hands. And so there's this theme that is so clear in Matthew, it's about this theme of innocent blood, which Judas says, I have betrayed innocent blood. The priests and elders don't want to deal with it. It moves on and moves on to Pilate, he washes his hands to show that somehow he's not complicit. And then of course, then the people say, oh, we'll be complicit. His blood be upon us and our children. It's a powerful theme. All these figures. Judas, we know means the name Yehuda. It's Judah. It's an area. Jews comes from this word, Judas, Yehudim. So you have them all participating. You have the Roman authorities, you have the religious authorities, then you have the people, all of which are a tragic sort of ending. But as we'll see, there's something greater going on, and that of course, is the will of God.
Hollie Benton 7:27
Yes. Let me read the passage now for Matthew's Gospel chapter 27. "When morning came, all the chief priests and the elders of the people took counsel against Jesus to put him to death. And they bound him and led Him away and delivered Him to Pilate, the governor. When Judas, his betrayer, saw that he was condemned, he repented and brought back the 30 pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders saying, I have sinned in betraying innocent blood. They said, What is that to us? See to it yourself. And throwing down the pieces of silver in the temple, he departed, and he went and hanged himself. But the chief priests, taking the pieces of silver said, It is not lawful to put them into the treasury since they are blood money. So they took counsel and bought with them the potter's field to bury strangers, and therefore that field has been called the Field of Blood to this day. Then was fulfilled what had been spoken by the Prophet Jeremiah saying, and they took the 30 pieces of silver, the price of him on whom a price had been set by some of the sons of Israel. And they gave them for the potter's field as the Lord directed me." So a couple of things that really strike me when I hear this passage is that one, it seems that the condemnation of Jesus was not something that Judas was actually expecting. What was he expecting instead? Perhaps he was trying to force the hand of Jesus in demonstrating miracles of political power against the Roman occupation, standing up against them. Secondly, it's so disappointing to hear that when Judas confesses his sin in betraying innocent blood to the very chief priests and elders who are in the business of sin offerings and pastoring the people, they betray Judas, a desperate man in his hour of need. They totally leave him out to dry while they do backflips to attend to the letter of the law by not accepting the blood money into the temple treasury. And then, finally, what exactly is this connection to the Prophet Jeremiah? As Fr. Timothy mentioned, the scene was already set and all we have to do is witness this great train wreck happening before our eyes.
Fr. Robert Holet 9:44
There's just so many lights shining in this passage that show us the human dynamics of sin at work within us and in particular, in the person of Judas. One of the things that struck me as the passage was read was that the word that's used for repent, it's translated as repented. Other translations into English it mentions a deep remorse, you know, just cut to the quick, this very deep sorrow when Judas realized what he did. So often we associate that with repentance. And it's essential that we realize truly what we did. But Judas really didn't repent in the way that we understand it as Christians, because there's a second aspect to repentance. And that is when one recognizes what he or she has done, then changes their mind, changes their will, turns around, makes right. One might argue that even in the very act of going back to the chief priest, he may have thought this was his way of repentance. So tragically, he doesn't receive anything, any notion, any possibility of repentance for himself from them. Again, showing the utter bankruptcy of these religious leaders when here was a man who realized he had done moral wrong, and he couldn't solve it himself. What a deep and a terrible place this is, and of course it leads, he cannot turn back to Jesus. He does not know Jesus to be the one to forgive him. Therefore, he has only himself and then he chooses the path to despair. And so it's just so captivating how I think any of us who've ever felt pangs of deep sorrow over our sins, and maybe even despair, feel sometimes we have no path, no way out, we feel entangled. And yet God, of course, in Jesus Christ, and in the whole story shows us the way through this time that it is within God's will, that we find that forgiveness from Christ and from Christ alone.
Fr. Timothy Lowe 11:47
Well, it's interesting Fr. Robert, this chapter that Hollie read is the beginning of chapter 27. And it's actually 27:4 where he acknowledges that he has betrayed innocent blood. Just a few verses before that we have the denial of Peter. So those two stories are intimately connected. And obviously, there are two types, as you say, Peter, at least doesn't betray but denies and weeps bitterly. And therefore there is hope for him because he's sorrowful for his actions. As you said, Judas does not do any of that he just simply acknowledges the truth of his deed. And when he comes to the priests declaring it, in doing that, he also declares their complicit behavior, and therefore their own guilt, their own sin, but they refuse to acknowledge it, dismiss him. As we said, Judas takes care of it himself, the image of hanging himself as opposed to going through the process of the law, which blood guiltiness requires a certain sort of restitution, an eye for an eye, tooth for tooth to be exact. So again, just juxtaposing Peter and Judas within such a short time, Matthew does brilliantly.
Hollie Benton 12:52
I found it really interesting, too, as you were speaking, Fr. Robert, that the repentance, the turning, Judas did return to the chief priests and threw the money at their feet and declared that he betrayed innocent blood. But he positions himself in front of the chief priests, rather than turning to Jesus and throwing himself down at his feet, that kind of repentance, the turning to Jesus, where do you turn, when you are repenting, when you're facing your sins? He turned to the chief priests, what would it have been like if he had turned to Jesus and fallen down at his feet?
Fr. Robert Holet 13:26
Hollie, as you were saying that, the passage that came to mind of Judas going to high priests with the quote offering unquote, the sin offering of the money, giving 30 pieces of silver back, restitution really, is the the teaching of Jesus earlier on, which said, before you go make your offering, if you have offended your brother, or if something is amiss in that relationship, you go first to him. Just as you were saying that he did not go back to Jesus. And that was what would have been the prerequisite to making right his offering back of the money and restitution and all those kinds of things, was going first back to Jesus, to receive forgiveness. Restoration, of course, and then he wouldn't actually have needed to go back to the high priests. He would have recognized that indeed, they were part of the problem, not the solution.
Fr. Timothy Lowe 14:17
Another aspect, that is the flow, is the teaching of the cross. Christ telling them what's going to happen to him and so on. Peter's confession, you are the Christ, the Son of the living God. And then at that point, ironically, in Matthew's Gospel, it says Jesus began to teach them what was going to happen to him. So if I am the Messiah, let me teach you what kind of Messiah I am. And immediately Peter rebukes him and after calling him, you are Peter on this rock, I will build my church, he calls him, Get behind me Satan! Peter goes from the highest to the lowest. So my point is the issue is the teaching of the cross, what kind of Messiah is Jesus of Nazareth? Hence, Isaiah 53, the will of God, Gethsemane, I must drink this cup, precisely to reveal what kind of Messiah he is. And so my point is, is that initially Peter rejects it. Judas completely, even though he acknowledges his own sin, the chief priests, everybody rejects it. And finally the people rejected it, His blood be upon us and our children, but also in the request for Barabbas. Because Barabbas means son of the father. In other words, he represents a political Messiah, someone who was in prison for his own political activity. I'm just saying that this issue of what kind of Messiah do you and I really want? Do we want a political and earthly Messiah? Or do we want the Crucified One? And what you said earlier about money and whatnot and God undoing things, everything gets undone. What kind of Messiah do we want? We've seen it in our own political realities in the last decade or so. Most Christians still want a political Messiah, they don't want the Jesus on the cross, because that has implications for stewardship, as you said, money and identity and everything else, we have to choose one or the other. If you mix and match, you completely, well, you preach another gospel, and this, Paul says to the Galatians, even if I were an angel, let me be accursed. So it's tough stuff here for me.
Hollie Benton 16:27
It is tough stuff.
Fr. Robert Holet 16:28
Me too. Getting back to the idea of identity and being a follower of Jesus means the follower goes to the cross and through the cross. And even though his initial disciples didn't do a very good job of that, the disciple who's going to be a true disciple, in our own generation, baptize believers, these are the things that we have to accept, we have to accept that crucified Jesus, the Jesus who has nothing, he's naked, at the very end, even the last of his possessions is stripped from him. He's empty, that servant of servants, the one who has come to do truly, in that biblical irony, the will of the Father, to accept that son of the Father, to be our Lord, and to follow Him and be willing to accept his teachings, whether regards our faith, theological things, or what we do with our money. I found it if we don't, invariably, our money seems to get us entangled. And it's a difficult thing to live as a disciple. If we're not attuning our lives in the way we carry out our lives, with our money and with our goals, our life goals, our plans. I just hope and pray that mine don't lead to an encounter with the religiosity that does not save. It's only in the discipleship with Jesus, that we find salvation.
Fr. Timothy Lowe 17:56
Yeah, money is definitely a messiah of sorts. Absolutely.
Hollie Benton 18:01
Thank you, Fr. Robert. May this Holy Week for all of our listeners be one in which we really reckon with the story and identify ourselves in Judas's betrayal and Peter's denial, so that we may have hope. Our only hope is in the mercy of our Lord.
Fr. Robert Holet 18:18
But I might just encourage the listeners to really take a good look at how the church prays the services, particularly on Holy Wednesday and great and Holy Thursday. They're just these wonderful poetic hymns that bring Judas right to the forefront. It's like the church, like St. Matthew, wants us to see what this struggle really looks like, what this betrayal really looks like and challenges us in following Jesus.
Hollie Benton 18:43
Thank you. Thank you, Fr. Robert. Thank you, Fr. Timothy.
Fr. Timothy Lowe 18:46
Fr. Robert Holet 18:48
Thank you, Father.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai