Judas’ betrayal and the mystery of human freedom vs. God’s plan

Homily for April 20, Wednesday of Holy Week

Click here for the podcast version of this homily.

The events of Judas Iscariot’s betrayal of Jesus Christ, as told in the Gospel today, involve us in one of the great mysteries of our faith. Jesus knew that He would be betrayed. He clearly said this to the apostles: “the Son of Man indeed goes, as it is written of Him.” He also knew who the betrayer was. In His divine knowledge, the Lord knew exactly how events would unfold.

And yet, Judas was not forced by the inevitable power of destiny to commit this crime. It was a free decision on his part. We know this for at least two reasons. First, Jesus tried to warn Judas over and over again, as He did in today’s reading, to give him a chance to repent and back down. There would be no point in this unless Judas really had a choice.

Secondly, Jesus said that the betrayer would be held accountable, that it would be “better for that man if he had never been born.” God is infinitely just, and would not punish a man for doing something unless he had freely chosen to do it. No one in their right mind punishes a rock for falling, or a tree for growing.

It is not easy to solve this paradox: God really knows everything we will do before we do it, yet we are not forced or predestined against our will to do it. Part of the solution lies in the fact that God is not subject to time; all times are present to Him, because He made time. He sees all events at once in an eternal present. It remains a complex problem, but the important thing is to recognize that both God’s knowledge and human freedom are true.

This helps us to understand why God allows evil in the world. He made human beings free so that we can truly and freely love Him. A necessary side effect is that we can also freely choose not to love Him, and hence, we can do evil. But God knows ahead of time what evil we will choose, and He can arrange to bring good out of it despite the perversity of sin. Thus, He allows the greed and duplicity of Judas as a necessary part of Jesus’ sacrifice for our sake on the cross.

This doesn’t mean we can sin and not worry, because “God will find a way to bring good out of it.” God’s ability to work around our sins doesn’t make them any less sinful. However, it is a source of hope. God doesn’t just redeem us when we repent; He also redeems our past, our sins and our mistakes. Judas couldn’t see that God could redeem him or his terrible sin, and the result was tragic. May God grant us true contrition and forgiveness for our sins, and the insight of true Christian hope.


About Matthew Green

I am a translator, origami artist/teacher, and photographer, a blogger, former philosophy professor, and I love to sing. You can see my photos on Flickr and buy prints of some of them on Fine Art America. You can find me on Instagram, Twitter (@mehjg), and in various and sundry other social media sites on the web.
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2 Responses to Judas’ betrayal and the mystery of human freedom vs. God’s plan

  1. Akira says:

    “No one in their right mind punishes a rock for falling, or a tree for growing.”

    Yes, but no one in their right mind would allow a person to be tortured forever just for being anything but perfect, either. We call that cruel and unusual punishment.

    • I agree. But people do not go to Hell for simply being less than perfect. We are all less than perfect; that’s why we have the sacrament of reconciliation in this life, and the possibility of purification in Purgatory on the way to Heaven after death. People can make lots of mistakes and bad choices in this life, but if they are truly sorry and do their best to reconcile with God, still go to Heaven. People go to Hell if they have willingly and knowingly chosen to rebel against their Creator on issues of fundamental importance, and have not repented.

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