Why isn’t Judas Iscariot a saint?

Life lessons from “Spy Wednesday” of Holy Week

“St. Judas Iscariot, pray for us!”—said no one ever. Why not? Why isn’t Judas Iscariot, among the Twelve Apostles chosen by Christ, a saint?

Is it because he betrayed Christ? Well, who hasn’t? Every true saint will beat his breast and confess that he is a sinner. And let’s not forget that St. Peter, one of the twelve and the first pope, was the loudest of those who proclaimed his fidelity to Christ—yet between the Last Supper and the following sunrise, he denied three times that he even knew Christ!

So, what’s the difference? What’s the difference between a sinner and traitor who becomes a saint, and the rest of us? We can illustrate the most important difference by looking closely at Simon Peter and Judas Iscariot—one a saint, the other, not.

St. Peter betrayed Christ with shouts and curses in the middle of a crowd. Judas Iscariot betrayed Christ in shadows and whispers, in a conspiracy. St. Peter thought he knew better than his Master the truth about his own courage and his own weakness. Judas Iscariot, who betrayed his Master with a kiss, thought he knew better than Christ what the mission of the anointed of God should be. Both were delusional—St. Peter was delusional about himself; Judas Iscariot was delusional about Christ.

St. Peter, who witnessed the transfiguration of Christ on Mount Tabor, chose to rely on his own strength, rather than humbly and wisely relying on the strength of Christ. Judas Iscariot, who witnessed first hand the three years of Christ’s public ministry, thought he was wiser than Christ, and tried to submit God’s anointed to his own human wisdom, rather than surrender to the divine wisdom.

What these two, St. Peter and Judas Iscariot have in common, is that they both took their eyes off Christ and looked to themselves. Of course, I can’t ask for a show of hands in this forum, but I will nonetheless ask: “Aren’t they very much like us? Don’t we too rely on our own strength and wisdom? Don’t we too so very often look to ourselves rather than attend to Christ, whom we proclaim as our Lord and Master?”

For fallen human beings like you and me, choosing to acknowledge that we have very much in common with both St. Peter and Judas Iscariot is an important first step. Holy Week, especially today, popularly referred to as “Spy Wednesday” to mark the traitorous conspiracy of Judas Iscariot, is a time to recognize our peril and our promise.

Our peril is this—when we recognize the full horror of our sin, when we come to terms with the monstrosity of our sin leading to the murder of Love Incarnate, the Christ of God, our revulsion may lead to despair rather than to conversion. Consider these words from Edward Fitzgerald’s version of The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam:

The Moving Finger writes; and having writ
Moves on: nor all thy Piety nor Wit
Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line.
Nor all thy Tears wash out a Word of it.

Both St. Peter and Judas Iscariot realized the horror of their sin; Peter betrayed impulsively, Judas Iscariot betrayed deliberately—both failed their Master.

Peter the Apostle wept bitterly, the Scriptures tell us, and repented of his sin. When his resurrected Master greeted him, surely he was amazed that he was neither killed nor excoriated but forgiven, restored, and entrusted with a great mission. The Risen Christ commissioned his repentant traitor with these words: “Feed my sheep.”

Judas Iscariot, seeing upon his own hands the blood of an innocent man, his very Master, despaired, and died by his own hand. By sin, we separate ourselves from Christ—yet while we live may still repent, and find the mercy that cost Christ so dearly. But by his despair, Judas Iscariot refused to let himself be found by the risen and merciful Christ.

Now, my friends, during this Holy Week, we sinners have a choice to make. Shall we admit the foolishness, ugliness and malice of our sins? If we do so, what shall we do next? There is still time to repent of our sins, and become a saint, like Peter who betrayed and returned to Our Blessed Lord. Or, shall we hide from Christ, withdraw from Christ, and scorn his mercy? This terrible choice, which every honest sinner must make, we must make especially during Holy Week.

The days of Holy Week will avail us little if we do not make a good sacramental confession, and choose to hope and trust. While there is still time, let us return to the Lord!

When I write next, I will reflect on how we might encounter the risen Christ. Until then, let’s keep each other in prayer.

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