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Judas, The Informant... Not Much has Changed in 2000 Years

Mugshot of Sammy "The Bull" Gravano, a well known informant for the FBI against John Gotti
Sammy "The Bull" Gravano - FBI informant against John Gotti

I was recently reading through Mark and I again noticed a certain passage that I have read many times before that rings true from my experience on the street as a cop/agent. In Mark’s Gospel, the account of Judas turning informant for the Sanhedrin is mentioned. Judas goes to the Sanhedrin in order to get a big payoff. The Sanhedrin agrees and then Judas goes off and betrays Jesus with a kiss. When Judas “gives the signal,” then in comes the Sanhedrin’s henchmen to arrest Jesus and take him before that body (Mark 14: 10-11, 44-46).

I have to say that this informant scenario is one that is re-enacted numerous times everyday in jurisdictions through the United States. There are a number of different reasons that informants are motivated to assist law enforcement agencies in their attempts to arrest criminals. Some informants turn in other drug dealers for revenge. In other words, an informant who is part of a criminal gang may call the “tip hotline” number because they want to see someone from an opposing drug gang arrested. This may allow the informant’s gang to get a better grip on the drug traffic in a particular community.

Another reason that an informant may call the tip hotline is when a citizen is trying to make his community a better place to live. Without the assistance of upstanding citizens in a particular community, the police would not be able to be as effective as they are today. Law abiding citizens who inform on criminals are essential to keeping crime in check. So hats off to the “ordinary Joe” who protects the community by letting the cops know about criminals! Another type of informant that most people are familiar with today is one who works in order to earn money for the information that they give. The amount of money given to an informant on any given case depends on how big of a threat that the criminal is to the community. Some informants are paid as little as $50 and as much as six figures or even more.

In reference to my past work hunting fugitives, there are any number of scenarios that can play out when working with informants. One possibility is that the informant can give particular information as to where the fugitive is and rely on the cops to make the arrest by themselves. However, because of the fluidity of some situations with a fugitive who is often “looking over his shoulder,” sometimes the informant has to give active assistance to the police. Oftentimes, some sort of pre-arranged signal to the police is needed in order for the police to know where the fugitive is located at a particular time. For example an informant may be stationed in a parking lot where the fugitive is located and when the fugitive comes to a parking lot, the informant may take off his coat or give some other sort of signal. More than likely today, it would be a phone call with a pre-determined phrase that would indicate that the fugitive was either present or nearby. Then upon receiving the signal from the informant, the police move in and arrest the fugitive. Many of these types of scenarios are played out in cop movies and television shows today.

So, when I recently read the aforementioned account of the betrayal of Jesus in Mark, I saw these elements in this account. First you have Judas going to the Sanhedrin in order to make a deal for some cash. This puts Judas in the category of the informant that is motivated by money. Judas is able to strike a deal, but of course he was pretty sure that he would be able to because Jesus was such a high profile person of that time period and he knew that the Sanhedrin would be interested. Next, Judas goes to the area where Jesus is located and leads the Sanhedrin’s men directly to Jesus and so there is no confusion, Judas gives the Sanhedrin’s squad of soldiers a pre-determined signal (a kiss). Upon the execution of the signal, the squad moves in and arrests Jesus.

In many scenarios, law enforcement agencies will not pay an informant until a successful arrest has been made. However, in some circumstances money will be advanced to an informant. The latter is what occurs in this scenario (Matthew chapter twenty-six). There are many different theories as to how much the thirty pieces of silver were worth but some theorize that it may have been up to half a years work for a skilled laborer. Regardless of how much money Judas was paid, he did earn his wage by leading the Sanhedrin’s squad to the location of Jesus. There are skeptics who criticize this passage of scripture by stating that because Jesus was such a high profile target, there would be no need for informants to help the Sanhedrin find him because everyone would know where he would be at any given time.

I disagree with this assertion and I think that the case of FBI Most Wanted fugitive James “Whitey” Bulger underscores the fact that a notorious fugitive can live openly in a populated area for many years without being noticed. Bulger was a mafia kingpin accused of murdering numerous persons during his underworld career centered in Boston, MA. Bulger had evaded arrest and had lived for sixteen years in an apartment located in Santa Monica, California before his arrest in 2011. As most of you know, for cases of this magnitude, there is a lot of press coverage with photos of the fugitive and known associates broadcast over the various forms of visual media. Even in this age of media proliferation, Bulger was able to remain at large for many years. Below is a link to a report of the arrest of Bulger in Santa Monica that occurred as a result of a tip from an informant.

In some of the cases that I worked through the years, there was often the concern that the fugitive would get tipped off as to the efforts of the police to arrest him/her. On occasion, the police miss the fugitive by a matter of just minutes. I remember a high profile case where an informant called me and said that the fugitive was present, at that moment, in the business that the informant was calling from. In the short amount of time it took me to travel from the office to the business establishment, the fugitive had already moved on. The informant met me at the curb and told me the fugitive had just pulled off seconds before I arrived.

I mention these scenarios to show that those who state that an informant was not necessary to point out Jesus are not familiar with the real world of law enforcement efforts where the work of informants are needed and an essential part of bringing criminals to justice. So, the account of the betrayal of Jesus by Judas rings true to this retired criminal investigator who has worked with informants through the years. This is just a small example of how the Bible can be relied upon for being truthful in what it says.

Upon reflecting on how Jesus could have fled from Jerusalem in order to avoid capture, I am so thankful that he stayed and allowed himself to be arrested, flogged, and crucified. He knew that Judas was going to betray him and knew that he was going to be arrested, etc. But why would he flee when this was the reason he came to Earth in the first place? He spoke of his impending death and resurrection on several occasions before it happened (Matt. 12:40,17:12; Luke 9:12; Mark 8:31). I cannot imagine the agony of knowing that such an awful experience was looming in the future. As he prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane the anticipation of his suffering begins but even in these emotion filled moments, Jesus’s focus was not on himself. Rather, his focus was on those he was leaving and for those who would come into relationship with him as a result of his sacrifice (John 17:6-26). As the old gospel song states “When He was on the cross, you were on his mind.” This virtuous mindset is observed when Jesus forgives and pardons the thief who is hanging there next to him (Luke 23:39-43). Even in these tortuous moments, Jesus was focused on his mission to minister salvation to any who seek him. I am thankful that Jesus did not run and hide. Rather, he willingly faced torture and death so that I could be counted as part of the family of God (Matthew 28:10; John 20:17). I will post some more on other accounts in the Gospel narratives that remind me of my experiences of working in law enforcement.


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