This is Holy Week and for many Christians an opportunity to reflect on the events in the life of Jesus leading up to the Resurrection. One of those events is the betrayal of Jesus by Judas for thirty pieces of silver. Judas, the betrayer, is presented to us as someone who was bitterly disappointed in Jesus and his mission. The act of betrayal seems like payback for what Judas saw as his "apparent preference for ministry to a single hysterical woman at the expense of a huge poor world" (Bruner). This is referring to the story immediately preceding the story of Judas and which sets the stage for it. Judas went to the high priests and offered to turn over Jesus for a price. The price: thirty pieces of silver. The betrayal price has been called "a ridiculously small sum", especially in contrast to the expensive perfume which the woman used to anoint Jesus in the previous story. The religious leaders and Judas are portrayed as selling out Jesus for a paltry sum, mirroring their disdain of the claim that Jesus is the Messiah. Judas goes down in history as the one who betrayed Jesus and we get on with the big celebration of Easter.
But not so fast. To understand the Judas story we have to look back at a fascinating passage in the Old Testament, Zechariah 11-12. Here is either an allegory or an acted out parable on the part of the prophet. It is a shepherd story, too. Israel has been unfaithful to the leadership of the shepherds God has sent to them. To be fair, not all of their shepherds have been good ones. But, the shepherd mentioned here in Zechariah is a good one, in fact, this is a prophecy of a coming Messiah/King. The prophet acts out the prophecy by taking two staffs called grace and unity. The people do not accept this Shepherd. The Shepherd rejects his covenant with them and breaks the two staffs. The leaders of the people couldn't care less and pay off the Shepherd/King with thirty pieces of silver (the price in OT law set to compensate for the loss of a slave) and send him on his way. Thirty pieces of silver was not a small sum but the point is that the people are paying off their own Messiah! Elizabeth Achtemeier says, "they want a Messiah who can be bought, whom they can hire and dismiss at will." They want to run their own show.
Zechariah foretells what we see happening in the Judas story and later on in the trial and crucifixion. It is a chilling word that challenges God's people to consider whether they really do want God to send his Messiah to lead them into the good life God wants for them.
At the cross Jesus was abandoned by almost all of those he came to save. He was the Good Shepherd and he was rejected by the sheep. He paid the price to go away. Why did people do this? Why do we do this today? God came with his vision for the good life and we turned away from him and turned him away from us. For a mere thirty pieces of silver. Holy week invites us to consider the price we are willing to pay to run our own lives. Thirty pieces of silver may not seem like much but it is everything.