In considering Judas Iscariot, I find myself considering me. I would rather believe in divisions between us. I cry in my heart, I am not Judas! Not that one, not Iscariot!

In the end this is true. I am not he.

But only in the end.

Because in the beginning it is neither our characters nor our conditions that divide us. Instead, it is the forgiveness of Jesus, which I have, but which, for reasons I do not fully understand, he did not have. Mercy alone allows me a long look at my brother and so at myself, for otherwise I might not be able to tolerate the sight.

Then Judas Iscariot, who was one of the twelve, went to the chief priests in order to betray him to them. And when they heard it they were glad, and promised to give him money. And he sought an opportunity to betray him. (Mark 14:10–11)

The contract that Judas makes here with men of murderous intent is so horrendous that we ask, “Why? How could he do such a thing?” The story feels incomplete without his motive.

“Greed,” we figure. Or the more sophisticated among us argue that Judas was moved by a misguided zealotry.

In fact, Mark’s account ignores the question of motive altogether. The writer implies that Judas went voluntarily and (seeing he accepted the rulers’ scheme so easily) with no plan of his own in mind. But that is all Mark cares to say of the mind of Judas.

Mark’s smart. There is a lesson for us in presenting the sin apart from its causes, as though motives were merely incidental and ultimately irrelevant.

Does the motive for a sin make it any less a sin? Isn’t betrayal of God’s sovereignty over our lives always a sin, regardless of the factors that drove us to it? Yes! Yet we habitually defend ourselves and ...

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