Earlier in these devotionals, I referred to my love of Frank Capra’s famous movie, ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ starring Jimmy Stewart. On its first release, the movie bombed at the cinema and was confined to the dustbin of failed movies. In 1974, at the end of its initial term of copyright, Republic Pictures, the original copyright owners of It’s a Wonderful Life, failed to apply for the second term – most probably due to a clerical error – and the film fell into the public domain. It was at this point that American television studios, always on the lookout for cheap content, picked it up and, for almost two decades, played it over the festive holidays lodging it in the nation’s psyche. The movie describes two housing estates, one named ‘Potters Field’, after its nightmare landlord, and the other ‘Bailey Park’. The main character of the movie, George Bailey, through the Building and Loan Company helped tenants escape the slums of ‘Potters Field’ empowering them to purchase a new home in Bailey Park. It is said that Frank Capra drew on the negative connotations of the biblical reference connecting Judas the traitor to Potters Field in Palestine.
The Gospel of Matthew describes how Judas, gripped by remorse, returned the money to the Temple authorities. Matthew seems to give the indication Judas was trying to return his ‘blood money’ to the Treasury. The ‘Middle Court’ standing between the ‘Court of Gentiles’ and the ‘Court of Israel’ was often referred to as the Treasury. It hosted 13 chests, shaped like trumpets, to receive gifts from the pilgrims and worshippers. This may have been the place where guilt gripped Judas ran throwing his bag of coins toward the offering chests. It is likely the bag would have burst on impacting the hard-stone floor sending coins noisily across the court floor.
The Chief Priests set about collecting the returned silver coins but deemed them tainted and not fit to be placed in the ‘qorbana’, the treasury. Blood money was offensive to these holy men. They seemed to miss the big picture and, their own involvement in creating this particular stash of ‘blood money’. They reverted to type fulfilling the ‘minutia’ of the law whilst murdering the Messiah.
The hypocritical religious leaders used it instead to buy ‘Potters Field’, also known as the ‘Acre of Ceramics’, as a burial ground for foreigners and strangers, subsequently gaining the name “The Field of Blood”. The earth in the field consisted of a strong rich red clay, possibly enhancing the thought of blood, favoured by potters of the day. It is suggested the land had been mined dry of its clay, rendered useless for farming and therefore, had little value. The estate continued to be used, by both occupying forces and residents, as a burial place for non-Jews up to the first quarter of the 19th century. In a strange irony, the bounty placed on the life of the homeless Son of God, purchased a parcel of land which became the final home for countless unknown strangers and homeless throughout the centuries.
Matthew informs us Judas subsequently committed suicide by hanging himself. Dr Luke in his book written for the spiritually curious Theophilus, documenting the birth and rise of the church, adds a little gorier detail. It is possible that Judas hanged himself from a tree in the ‘Field of Blood’ known in Aramaic as the Akeldama and his body burst open. ‘Now this man acquired a field with the reward of his wickedness, and swelling up he burst open in the middle and all his bowels gushed out.’ – Acts 1:18
The story of Judas is curious in that to follow Jesus, like the other disciples, he would have given up much. He had given up his home to walk the countryside with Jesus and lived from the communal pot. This does quite gel with the common view that Judas loved money more than the master. Of course, there is some truth to be found as, with hindsight, the disciples recognised the man appointed treasurer had his hand in the till but, initially at least he left much to join the Jesus group.
As followers of Jesus let us ask ourselves the hard questions. Are our motivations pure in following Jesus? Are we tempted to value anything (we could say worship) above Jesus? Are we pursuing gifting and ministry, Judas had both, or Christ-like character? Let us ‘press on’ as Paul encourages us to finish what we started and win the prize!
More From This Series
View the other Devotionals in our “For the Joy” series