March 14, 2013
Overlooking the Grand Canal and nestled next to St. Mark’s Basilica stands Venice’s
Palazzo Ducale. Its pink and white marble Gothic façade glittering in the sunlight and the opulence of its interior -- ceilings gilded with gold and walls laden with costly paintings -- boast of the power and prosperity that Venice once had. Inside this palace of the Doges, Venice’s elected rulers, is the famous
Sala del Maggior
Consiglio. Here where her aristocracy would meet, the Republic of Venice spared no expense to display all her majesty and magnificence.
Just beneath the opulently decorated ceiling of this hall, there are the seventy-six portraits of the Doges, from the ninth, Obelerio, to the eighty-first, Francesco Venier. Pictorially, these portraits sum up the history of Venice’s greatness through the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. However, the portrait of one of the Doges is curiously missing from this visual genealogy: that of Marin Faliero. In its place, a black painted curtain catches the eye. It is a grim reminder that Venice’s fifty-fifth leader had been beheaded for treason in 1355.
The complete tale of Venice’s greatness would not be told without the truth of the fall from grace of one of her chosen leaders. Neither would the complete story of the Church’s greatness be recounted without the honest reminder that, among her first chosen leaders, Judas fell from grace and betrayed Jesus. In the gallery of the gospel portraits of the first apostles, Judas’ treason hangs like a black curtain hiding from view his place in God’s plan for our salvation. A role that perplexes and confuses us.
The enemies of Jesus plotted for some time to do away with Jesus. But their attempts to do so failed (Lk 4: 28-30; 19:47-48; 20:19-20). They did not want to incite the people to riot. It is only when Judas freely offers to hand Jesus over to his enemies that they are able to apprehend him and condemn him to death. But, why did Judas betray him? Judas had the same intimacy with Jesus as the others. He was given the same mission. He, like the others, saw the impact of Jesus’ words and witnessed the compassion of his deeds. Why did he turn against the Lord?
In Luke’s gospel, we hear Jesus say, “The Son of Man indeed goes as it has been determined…” (22:22). Determined by whom? By God? Would God rob Judas of his freedom? Certainly not! God never predetermines us to sin. Determined by Judas? By his love of money? By his self-absorbed dreams gone bad? Or was it Judas’ disappointment that Jesus would not cater to the popular expectations of how the Messiah should fulfill his mission? Why did Judas turn traitor?
The Scriptures leave this disconcerting question without a complete answer. Perhaps deliberately. Would it not be better for us to stop trying to explain the sin of Judas, one chosen by Jesus himself to lead, and, instead, start examining more honestly our own lives as those Jesus chooses to follow him today?