Scripture: Then when Judas, his betrayer, saw that Jesus was condemned, he changed his mind and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders, saying, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.” They said, “What is that to us? See to it yourself.” And throwing down the pieces of silver into the temple, he departed, and he went and hanged himself. But the chief priests, taking the pieces of silver, said, “It is not lawful to put them into the treasury, since it is blood money.” So they took counsel and bought with them the potter’s field as a burial place for strangers. Therefore that field has been called the Field of Blood to this day. Then was fulfilled what had been spoken by the prophet Jeremiah, saying, “And they took the thirty pieces of silver, the price of him on whom a price had been set by some of the sons of Israel, and they gave them for the potter’s field, as the Lord directed me.” Matthew 27:3-10 ESV
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Observation: Recapping Yesterday’s Daily Focus, Matthew provides a segue from the interrogation of the religious leaders to Pilate’s inquisition. Matthew tells us that when the sun rose (and darkness no longer cloaked their sinister machinations), the chief priests and elders moved quickly to obtain a death sentence from Pilate (the Roman governor of Jerusalem) because Jews were not permitted under Roman law to perform capital punishment.
Today’s reading turns aside the Passion narrative to an epilogue of Jesus’ betrayer. When Judas sees the outcome of his treacherous and egregious actions, resulting in Christ’s condemnation, he attempts to reverse the course of Jesus’ capital sentence. So he returns to the chief priests and elders, confesses he sinned by betraying an innocent man, and offers to return the ransom of thirty pieces of silver. Unmoved, the religious leaders rebuff his confession. So Judas throws the coins into the temple, storms away, and despairingly hangs himself.
Convinced of their rightful course of action, the chief priests gather the silver (acknowledging that it is blood money) and, after deliberating, purchase the “potter’s field,” which Matthew notes is called the “Field of Blood” to this present day of his writing. And continuing to connect messianic prophecies to Christ, Matthew references Jeremiah regarding purchasing the potter’s field for thirty pieces of silver. However, Matthew conflates Zechariah 11:11-13 with Jeremiah’s general messianic language regarding a potter and the shed of innocent blood (Jeremiah 19:1-13).
Of note, historians during these ancient times commonly cited the better-known source without mention of other supporting works. In the opening verses of his Gospel, Mark does the same by citing only Isaiah when combining both Isaiah and Malachi’s prophecies (see Mark 1:2, Isaiah 40:3, and Malachi 3:1).
Takeaway: Of the Gospel authors, only Matthew records Judas’s remorse and belated attempt to return the blood money and make things right. However, Luke chronicles Peter speaking to the elders regarding replacing Judas, stating that Judas bought the field and fell headlong with his bowels bursting—implying he hung himself (see Acts 1:16-19). Peter’s discrepancy regarding who purchased the field is of no concern to the harmony of Scripture. Peter occasionally embellished the facts to drive home a point like we sometimes do. And the reality is that Judas did not repentant (the biblical Greek word metanoeo). Instead, Matthew uses a variation of the root word that connotes remorse (metamelomai).
While subtle in its semantic range, remorse does not necessarily lead to repentance. We can feel sorry for ourselves or others while being unmoved to take constructive action. Sadly, Judas’s worldly sorrow led to a darker place of despair that tragically robbed him of hope and a future in the resurrected Christ. As cited in a recent Daily Focus, Paul poignantly distinguishes between godly and worldly grief. Speaking to the Corinthian church about the heartache he may have caused them from his first letter (where he pointedly addressed their sins), Paul nevertheless rejoices that their grief led to repentance, “For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death” (2 Corinthian 7:10 ESV).
Our takeaway? Suicide is a complex subject to address adequately in a short devotional. Permit me, though, to speak briefly on the matter. For those loved ones who have lost a family member or friend to suicide (including myself, having lost a brother and a childhood friend), we need not blame ourselves nor lose hope for their eternal well-being. Indeed, is it beyond God’s reach in the momentary pause between life and death to extend grace and forgiveness where the soul repents? Still, in this present life, we must choose whether we regret sinning against God and others or merely regret the consequences. That’s the difference between godly and worldly grief. And, as Paul contends, the latter, without repentance, leads to death in incremental steps that eventually extinguish the flame of hope in Christ. So let’s practice godly grief that produces the fruit of repentance and leads to salvation with no regret.
Prayer: Father God, we thank you for your Son who grieved over Jerusalem’s hardened, unrepentant hearts but, in contrast, rejoiced in knowing that while his absence would distress his disciples, their sorrow would soon turn to joy. And we thank you for the Holy Spirit, our Helper and Comforter, who intercedes for us when words cannot express our sorrows. Still, we are prone to self-pity and slow to repent. So would you please help us follow the lead of the Holy Spirit in transitioning from grief to repentance to salvation with no regret? Amen.
Rev. Gordon Green, M.Div., M.A. Counseling