Greedy Easter story


coinsThis Easter is a time of mistrust. It is hard to escape the prevailing economic gloom, the impression that our future has been handed over to those who have proved themselves venal and untrustworthy in managing our past, and the signs that the world our children will inherit is being despoiled so that we can live on undisturbed.

If trust is the one thing that is required, it is also the one thing that we give most grudgingly. And if it is not given, cynicism and apathy rule.

Mistrust is not a great spirit in which to celebrate Easter. Easter is about new beginnings, dawn, clarity and trust. Mistrust is corrosive of all that. So this Easter it might be worth looking at the more sinister players in the drama Easter, especially Judas and the chief priests. Their story is one of how mistrust is bred by greed and locked in by power.

Judas' personal story has always fascinated readers of the Gospels. But Matthew's Gospel, which provides the most dramatic picture of Judas, is more interested in its public significance. He tells us of the 30 pieces of silver Judas receives for his betrayal, his remorse, his rejected attempt to return the money, his hanging, and the use of his money to fund a graveyard for foreigners.

Matthew's account is a fireworks display of symbols and allusions to Old Testament stories, mostly about dodgy transactions. In particular he draws on a parable of Zecchariah which presents the leaders of Israel as exploiting the people and finally selling them out for 30 silver pieces. This was the price of a slave.

Judas then is a pawn in the plot of the chief priests. He certainly sold Jesus out, but he was himself sold short by the chief priests. Although they were scrupulous in accounting for monies received, they had no scruple in paying money to procure betrayal and a killing. They professed to protect the temple, the centre of Israel, but they spent its resources for the benefit of foreigners.

In this story greed corrupts Judas and money is used corruptly by the chief priests to kill Jesus and so protect their power. Their dealings, like Judas' betrayal of Jesus, were built on mistrust, which finally destroys Judas when he realises what he has done and what kind of people he has been dealing with.

Matthew contrasts Jesus with the chief priests in their dealings with money and power. When he entered Jerusalem, Jesus' first act was to knock over the sellers' tables in the temple. Because the temple was the heart of the Jerusalem economy and the source of the chief priests' power, this act radically challenged the values that underlay the economic order. It stated God's priorities.

Although the chief priests crushed Jesus' challenge by having him executed, Jesus rose from the dead, left terrified and helpless the soldiers who protect the old order, and summoned the disciples away from Jerusalem, the centre of corruption, to Galilee.

Judas' death and Jesus' rising seemed to have left mistrustful Jerusalem and its dealings behind. But Matthew unexpectedly returns to the chief priests' doings in Jerusalem. The chief priests bribe the soldiers to change their story and say that Jesus' disciples had stolen his body. Matthew records that their spin was largely successful.

So even as the disciples leave for Galilee, the dark forces in Jerusalem that control money and spin are still working, still effective. Judas may have died, but the high priests remain in charge, untrusting and untrustworthy.

The Easter story suggests that we should not expect a new and trustworthy economic order in which greed and short-term interests will suddenly yield to humane values. There is no reason why we should trust the market and those who claim to know its workings.

Easter doesn't make the grounds for mistrust go away. It does confront cynicism and apathy. From the perspective of Easter the victories of greed and myopia are cheap and hollow. The masters of the universe have only the power and the wisdom that we concede to them. Christ's rising shows that what matters in human life is deeper than greed can take us, and that it is worth trying to build a better world.

Judas and the chief priests of our day still roam the world. But their eyes are dead. Easter is bright eyed.

Andrew HamiltonAndrew Hamilton is the consulting editor for Eureka Street. He also teaches at the United Faculty of Theology in Melbourne.

Topic tags: Andrew Hamilton, mistrust, greed, Easter, economic crisis, Judas, Matthew's gospel


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Existing comments

There was catastrophe in 3rd world countries' financial markets about 10 years - places like Indonesia, Malaysia, ..... Why the sudden concern now? Are people in Australia or USA worth more?
richard | 09 April 2009

Given the human condition,the frailties of humanity will surely remain with us to the end.

Knowing and understanding those frailties, Jesus, as the Son of God, laid down His life for us, teaching repentance and displaying forgiveness.

But when will humanity...specially its churchmen...get around to forgive Judas?

To quote Andrew "his remorse, his rejected attempt to return the money (the 30 pieces of silver)..his hanging (suicide)"...are they not the hallmarks of regret, finally stamped by the despair of suicide?

I'm sure Jesus forgave Judas over 2,000 years ago....isn't it time we did too.

The world is full of people with the same weaknesses of Judas in the life of Jesus and certainly there are numerous examples of hollow "chief priests" But let's identify the weaknesses by their names ...frailty, greed, power and corruption..rather than perpetuating blame of particular individuals. Judas came home a long time ago to a loving Father. If we have trouble with that then we'll have trouble not only with this Easter but all those still ahead.
Brian Haill | 09 April 2009

"Judas may have died, but the high priests remain in charge, untrusting and untrustworthy."

In Jesus' time he was a revolutionary within an oppressive system dominated by the Roman Empire. Today we still have empires that exploit or ignore the many in favour of the privileged few. The current economic situation is a prime example of where the dominant and ruthless ideology of extreme capitalism leads. It has never been more important to learn from Jesus' example and teachings.
Natalie | 09 April 2009

Whether Judas was motivated by greed, I am not sure. Perhaps Judas' problem was that Jesus was not intent upon seizing power and exerting it. Maybe he came to realise that his concern for power and worries about money were not those of Jesus. Judas seems to have rejected Jesus because Jesus failed to share Judas's world view. As John Carroll pointed out in the Existential Jesus, Jesus knew what Jesus was on about and rejected Him. He came to regret that. How many try to squeeze their world view into the Gospel message?
Kim Chen | 09 April 2009

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