God has a sense of humor. It is a dark irony that on Spy Wednesday, Solicitor General Verrilli argued this morning in Zubik v. Burwell before the elders and scribes of our modern Sanhedrin why the First Amendment doesn’t protect the conscience rights of the Little Sisters of the Poor, Priests for Life, and other Christian institutions and charities, and for what? So that people can have “free” condoms, purchased by taxpayers? As we hear in today’s reading:
The Son of Man indeed goes, as it is written of him,
but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed.
It would be better for that man if he had never been born.
When Judas accepts the 30 pieces, he is exchanging his freedom as a follower of Christ for servitude under an earthly master, but after betraying Christ, he has buyer’s remorse. As the Gospel tells us, “what doth it profit a man, if he gain the whole world, and suffer the loss of his own soul?” Like a wrecked car, he is now damaged goods. He cannot simply return the money to buy back his freedom. According to Wikipedia:
In Zechariah 11:12–13, 30 pieces of silver is the price Zechariah receives for his labour. He takes the coins and throws them ‘to the potter’…In Exodus 21:32, 30 pieces of silver was the price of a slave, so while Zechariah calls the amount a ‘handsome price’ (Zechariah 11:13), this could be sarcasm.
According to another valuation, Judas is given the seasonal wages of a laborer for about four months, roughly the time from planting to harvest for spring wheat, but the money is instead used to buy a potter’s field, which is barren and useless for agriculture. Jesus says “The harvest indeed is great, but the labourers are few.” Conversely, Judas finds that his labors are in vain, because the empty promises of his sin are fruitless.
To return to the original point, the allegorical value of 30 pieces of silver in today’s money could be anywhere from as little as a pack of cigarettes exchanged for an ISIS sex slave to a real value of $20,000 in today’s dollars for one enslaved laborer just prior to the Civil War. On the other hand, in purchasing power terms, at California minimum wage of $10/hour for 120 ten-hour days, Judas’ price works out to $12,000.
Even at such a small sum to sell one’s soul, Judas Iscariot got a better deal for his treachery than Solicitor General Verrilli, but so too the greater was the former’s condemnation. According to Sandra Fluke, the contraceptive mandate is worth $3,000 per annum (ironically, she equates this to the summer salary of an internship, echoing Judas’ four months’ wages). However, the Little Sisters of the Poor are celibate nuns, so the value of this coverage to them is precisely zero.
Let us pray for the Solicitor General that God will show him mercy despite the weight of his offenses. As we join with the whole Church in the solemn intercessions this Good Friday, please remember him, as well as President Obama and Secretary Burwell, upon whom an even greater judgement will surely rest should they carry out their threats of punishment upon the Little Sisters and their fellow petitioners for the exercise of their Christian faith.
Almighty ever-living God,
in whose hand lies every human heart
and the rights of peoples,
look with favor, we pray,
on those who govern with authority over us,
that throughout the whole world,
the prosperity of peoples,
the assurance of peace,
and freedom of religion
may through your gift be made secure.
Through Christ our Lord.