Thirty Pieces: Sack the Shepherd

22 11 2010

‘Then one of the twelve, whose name was Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and said, “What will you give me if I deliver him over to you?” And they paid him thirty pieces of silver. And from that moment he sought an opportunity to betray Jesus.’
(Matthew 26:14-16 ESV)

I’ve been thinking recently about this powerful episode in Matthew’s gospel. It’s such a pithy treatment of a giant ‘hinge’ of a moment, upon which the door of the gospel was swung wide open.

The language of Matthew 26:15, uniquely among the accounts, deliberately echoes Zechariah 11:12, using the word εστησαν, meaning ‘to establish’ or ‘to weigh out.’ When the Chief Priests ‘weigh out’ thirty pieces of silver, Matthew wants to draw our minds to this crucial passage in Zechariah, to which he will return again in the next chapter.

Matthew’s gospel relies a good deal on Zechariah, drawing regular, powerful allusions from his writing. Zechariah 11 is packed with evocative imagery of a shepherd who is tasked with caring for a flock doomed to death. He rescues them, only to be rejected by the sheep. He breaks his two staffs of ‘favour’ and ‘union’ and the sheep are left to the leadership of a worthless shepherd. I’m sure you hardly need a detailed commentary to begin to see the loaded prophetic metaphors. Jesus even quotes from Zechariah 13:7 in Mathew 26:31 – ‘It is written, “I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.”’

But in Zechariah 11:12-13 we read: ‘And they weighed out (εστησαν) as my wages thirty pieces of silver […] the lordly price at which I was priced by them.

Zechariah’s words are dripping with irony. Thirty pieces of silver is a paltry amount; this ‘lordly price’ is an insultingly low wage for a spiritual leader. And such was the minute cost for which Judas was willing to sacrifice his master.

But leaving aside the similarities, note the differences:

  • Zechariah resigned his position. Jesus refused to.
    Standing in the garden at Gethsemane, he pleaded with his Father for the cup to pass. But he knew he couldn’t walk out on the sheep; he had to die for them.
  • Zechariah received wages for his work, insufficient as they were. Jesus received nothing.
    Another man took his wages and left him to complete the task in agony.

Still, for the joy set before him, Jesus endured the cross (Heb 12:2). Truly, a hired hand would have fled, caring nothing for the sheep. But the good shepherd lays down his life willingly (John 10:11-13, 17-18).




One response

26 05 2011
Thirty Pieces: Throw it to the Potter « Liam's Blog

[…] incident where a band of conspirators unwittingly prophesy through their actions.  As we’ve seen previously, Zechariah 11 speaks of the shepherd being paid a paltry sum for his work, shepherding an […]

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