Spy Wednesday

Then one of the twelve, who was called Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and said, ‘What will you give me if I betray him to you?’ They paid him thirty pieces of silver. And from that moment he began to look for an opportunity to betray him.(Matthew 26.14-16)

The traditional name for this day that is now almost over is ‘Spy Wednesday’. The name comes from these verses which record that the chief priests got what they wanted, someone on the inside who would hand Jesus to them on a plate. Just to sweeten the pill he got an up front payment. They trusted him, they trusted him (can you believe it), trusted this one who was prepared to betray the Rabbi he had been following for three years – to be the spy they needed. Judas presents himself as the one with a social conscience when he objects to the anointing of Jesus on the basis that the money could be given to the poor. The gospel puts a gloss on this –

(He said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it.) (John 12.6)

But maybe he did share in God’s option for the poor, maybe he was misguided, maybe, as some commentators and Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice in ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ suggest, he was trying to provoke the situation to get Jesus to act in the way he thought he should. After all, his name – Iscariot – may refer to a kind of knife; it could suggest that he could be a bit of a troublemaker.

Judas Iscariot

Judas Iscariot

But whatever the truth, the trusted man breaks the trust, takes the money and agrees to the deed. And he does it in the dark so that his misdeeds cannot be seen. As it says in John’s Gospel

For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. (John 3.20)

But Jesus is the light of world and we are called to walk and act in the light. This ancient song has been sung by the church as the vesper light is lit. This translation of ‘Phos Hilaron’ is by Robert Bridges

O gladsome light, O grace
Of God the Father’s face,
The eternal splendour wearing;
Celestial, holy, blest,
Our Saviour Jesus Christ,
Joyful in thine appearing.

Now, ere day fadeth quite,
We see the evening light,
Our wonted hymn outpouring;
Father of might unknown,
Thee, his incarnate Son,
And Holy Spirit adoring.

To thee of right belongs
All praise of holy songs,
O Son of God, Lifegiver;
Thee, therefore, O Most High,
The world doth glorify,
And shall exalt forever.

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