Gospel Reflection: Spy Wednesday: Thirty Pieces of Silver

Gospel Reflection: Spy Wednesday: Thirty Pieces of Silver

With thirty pieces of silver, Judas betrays our Lord to the Chief Priests. Such a price has become shorthand in the popular imagination for perfidy and treachery, a feeble allusion to Judas’ ultimate betrayal. But, we might ask, why this price? Why not fifty pieces of silver? Or ten?

At the start of the today’s Gospel (Matthew 26:14-25), Judas asks the Chief Priests what they are prepared to pay for the handing over of Jesus. It seems to me that there are at least two ways of interpreting this questioning: either Judas was bargaining with the Chief Priests, weighing things up, as it were; or, Judas had already made up his mind to betray Jesus and the monetary reward was not particularly significant to him. St. Thomas Aquinas thinks the latter. He writes, “[Judas] speaks as someone who thinks very badly of God, for when someone wishes to sell a thing he loves, he sets a price on it but when he has a thing from which he wishes to free himself, he says, give me what pleases you.” In other words, for Judas, it wasn’t really about the money, it was about sin.

The precise quantity of money is significant in its symbolism, however. There is an echo of Zechariah 11:12-13 where thirty pieces of silver is a “handsome price” for a man’s wages. Whether this is meant ironically is debated amongst the exegetes. Whatever the meaning of this sum in the Old Testament, the parallel is one that was surely intended by the Chief Priests. We might also suppose that the Chief Priests have in mind thirty pieces of silver as the value put on the injury done to a slave by an ox in Exodus 21:32. So we’re to understand, I think, Judas as their agent or “spy”, and a slave to sin who is compensated by the Chief Priests, accordingly.

 The bottom line for us is that no price, no sin, should lead us to betray Jesus as Judas did. The example of Judas serves as a constant reproach so that we may remain steadfast as disciples of Jesus.

Fr Samuel Burke is based in St Albert the Great in Edinburgh, where he serves as a university chaplain.