Spy Wednesday

Wednesday went quietly. Too quietly.

With the previous three days awash in drama — Sunday’s triumphal entry, Monday’s temple cleansing, and Tuesday’s temple controversies — now Wednesday, April 1, A.D. 33, comes like the calm before the storm.

But out of sight, lurking in the shadows, evil is afoot. The church has long called it “Spy Wednesday,” as the dark conspiracy against Jesus races forward, not just from enemies outside, but now with a traitor from within. It is this day when the key pieces come together in the plot for the greatest sin in all of history, the murder of the Son of God.

The Plot Thickens

Jesus wakes again just outside Jerusalem, in Bethany, where he has been staying at the home of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. His teaching again attracts a crowd in the temple. But now the Jewish leaders, silenced by Jesus the day before, will leave him be. Today they will avoid public confrontation and instead connive in private.

Caiaphas, the high priest, gathers to his private residence the chief priests and Pharisees — two competing groups, typically at odds, now bedfellows in their ache to be rid of the Galilean. They scheme to kill him, but don’t have all the pieces in place yet. They fear the approving masses, and don’t want to stir up the assembled hordes during Passover. The initial plan is to wait till after the feast, unless some unforeseen opportunity emerges.

Enter the traitor.

The Miser and His Money

The Gospel accounts point to the same precipitating event: the anointing at Bethany.

Jesus was approached by a woman — we learn from John 12:3 that it was Mary, the sister of Martha. She took “very expensive ointment” and anointed Jesus. An objection comes from the disciples — John 12:4 says it was Judas — “Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?” This was, after all, “a very large sum,” more than a year’s wages for a soldier or common laborer. It would have been enough money to finance a family for more than a year, and could have gone a long way for charity.

But Jesus doesn’t share Judas’s miserliness. Here he finds extravagance in its rightful place. The kingdom he brings resists mere utilitarian economics. He sees in Mary’s “waste” a worshiping impulse that goes beyond the rational, calculated, efficient use of time and money. For Mary, Jesus is worth every shekel and more. The Anointed himself says what she has done is “a beautiful thing” (Matthew 26:10).

Judas, on the other hand, is not so convinced. And contrary to appearances, the miser’s protest betrays a heart of greed. Judas’s concern comes “not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief, and having charge of the moneybag he used to help himself to what was put into it” (John 12:6). The traitor had long been on a trajectory of sin and hard-heartedness, but the last straw is this extravagant anointing.

Satan finds a foothold in this heart in love with money, and what wickedness follows. Incensed about this “waste” of a year’s wages, he goes to the chief priests and becomes just the window of opportunity the conspirators are looking for. The spy will lead them to Jesus at the opportune time when the crowds have dispersed. And the greedy miser will do it for only thirty pieces of silver, which Exodus 21:32 establishes as the price of the life of a slave.

Why the Insult of Betrayal?

Why would God have it go down like this? If Jesus truly is being “delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God” (Acts 2:23), and his enemies are doing just as God’s hand and plan “had predestined to take place” (Acts 4:28), why design it like this, with one of his own disciples betraying him? Why add the insult of betrayal to the injury of the cross?

We find a clue when Jesus quotes Psalm 41:9 in forecasting Judas’s defection: “He who ate my bread has lifted his heel against me” (John 13:18). King David knew the pain not just of being conspired against by his enemies, but betrayed by his friend. So now the Son of David walks the same path in his agony. Here Judas turns on him. Soon Peter will deny him, and then the remaining ten will scatter.

From the beginning of his public ministry, the disciples have been at his side. They have learned from him, traveled with him, ministered with him, been his earthly companions, and comforted him as he walked this otherwise lonely road to Jerusalem.

But now, as Jesus’s hour comes, this burden he must bear alone. The definitive work will be no team effort. The Anointed must go forward unaccompanied, as even his friends betray him, deny him, and disperse. As Donald Macleod observes, “Had the redemption of the world depended on the diligence of the disciples (or even their staying awake) it would never have been accomplished” (The Person of Christ, 173).

As he lifts “loud cries and tears” (Hebrews 5:7) in the garden, the heartbreak of David is added to his near emotional breakdown: “Even my close friend in whom I trusted, who ate my bread, has lifted his heel against me” (Psalm 41:9). He is forsaken by his closest earthly associates, one of them even becoming a spy against him. But even this is not the bottom of his anguish. The depth comes in the cry of dereliction, “My God! My God! Why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46).

But more remarkable than this depth of forsakenness is the height of love he will show. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends, even when they have forsaken him.