Judas was one of the original 12 disciples. He is called Judas son of Simon and Judas Iscariot. Iscariot means “man from Kerioth.” Kerioth, known both as Kerioth Hezron and Hazor, was a town located in the northern Negev that belonged Judah (Joshua 15:25). Probably, Judas Iscariot was the only non-Galilean apostle. He kept the community money bag for Jesus and his followers. Judas objected to Mary anointing Jesus’ feet with nard. His objection was that the costly perfume was worth a year’s wages. The nard could have been sold and the money given to the poor. According to John’s gospel, Judas wasn’t concerned about the poor; rather, Judas was a thief and wanted access to this large sum of money.
After Mary anointed Christ, Judas went to the chief priests to negotiate money to betray Jesus. The chief priests were delighted with this turn of events and offered Judas 30 silver coins, the equivalent to about 4 month’s salary for a Jewish laborer. Judas agreed on the amount and the chief priests gave the money to Judas immediately. From that time onward, Judas looked for an opportunity to betray Christ that would not cause a riot among the Jews who believed in him.
Jesus knew that Judas was going to betray him. During the Passover meal, Jesus said that one of the 12 would betray him. Saddened, each apostle asked Christ if he would be the betrayer. Audaciously, Judas said, “Surely not I, Rabbi?” (Matthew 26:25). Jesus answered, “Yes, it is you.”
After supper, Jesus went to the garden of Gethsemane to pray. Knowing Jesus spent his nights in Gethsemane, Judas guided an attachment of soldiers, officials, and Pharisees to Jesus. Judas told them that the man he kissed would be Jesus. Walking up to Jesus, Judas said, “Greetings, Rabbi” and kissed him. Immediately, Christ was arrested and taken to the chief priest Caiaphas. By early morning (Friday morning), the Jewish hierarchy determined to put Jesus to death. They bound Jesus and handed him over to Pilate, the governor.
When Judas saw that Jesus was condemned, he was filled with remorse. He tried to return the 30 silver coins to the chief priests and elders saying, “I have sinned, for I have betrayed innocent blood” (Matthew 27:4.). Callously, they responded, “What is that to us? That’s your responsibility.” Judas threw the money into the temple and went out and hung himself.
The Redbud Tree
By tradition, Judas hung himself on a redbud tree. For centuries the Cercis siliquastrum has been called the “Judas tree.” As Judas hung on the tree, the tree’s white flowers turned red because the tree was ashamed that the betrayer of Christ died on it. The origin of this legend is unknown; however, many Israeli gardens, e.g., Neot Kedumim and Jerusalem Botanical Garden, associate the Cercis siliquastrum with Judas Iscariot.
Cercis siliquastrum is called the Mediterranean Redbud. It is native to the eastern Mediterranean basin and is widely distributed in the Middle East. The redbud tree grows in the northern and central regions of Israel. Often it can be seen along banks of streams and as understory in tall forests. Cercis siliquatrum can be badly damaged by frost and is less hardy than its American counterpart Cercis canadensis.
Symbolism: Ashamed, shame
By tradition the redbud tree felt shame because Judas used it to commit suicide. Ashamed means feeling disgraced, guilty, or inferior. The redbud tree’s shame wasn’t because Judas hung himself; but because Judas used it as the vehicle of his death. Matthew wrote that Judas was seized with remorse after betraying Christ’s innocent blood (Matthew 27:3-4). Remorse includes a gnawing distress arising from a sense of guilt for past wrongs or feeling self-reproach.
Possibly, Judas felt both ashamed and guilt. The difference between the redbud tree and Judas was that the redbud tree changed its flowers from a pristine, beautiful white to crimson to atone for its disgrace. Judas’ sin was much greater than that of the redbud tree, yet, Judas made no effort to atone for what he did. Instead, Judas committed suicide to escape his feelings.
Reflection: Like the legend of the redbud tree, legends teach us truths. I’m ashamed and guilty that my sin nailed Christ to the cross; but, I am so grateful to have a Savior!
Copyright December 23, 2013; Carolyn A. Roth