JUDAS: TRAITOR OR BEST FRIEND?
October 22, 2019
Doubtless, the story below falls within what many would consider speculations, and baseless theories. Bishop John Shelby Spong is one of those scholars to whom the very existence of Judas is questionable. Nevertheless, I dare to introduce a totally fictitious scenario whose purpose is to redeem the Apostol’s negative image presented by the canonical gospels. Beginning with Marcos, the malignancy of Judas grows with time to reach a maximum of perversity in John. None of the four evangelists mentioned the internal debate that must have occurred when Judas has to decide between the dictates of his heart, full of love for the master, and obedience to the instructions of his beloved rabbi. The fictional narrative that follows presents that alternative.
"That Thursday, Judas rose early; as he did every day. Today, however, he was seized by a hunch that something bad was about to happen. The day presented itself as an unfinished poem. The first strange thing he noticed was that the master had advanced one day the Passover dinner, a solemn festivity dedicated to honoring the time when his ancestors still lived as slaves in Egypt. For Judas, to celebrate it on Thursday in contrast to Friday, was because the rabbi was anticipating his possible arrest by the Romans, or by the religious authorities. It didn’t matter, there were only minor differences between them. They made a pact of coexistence and mutual aid that worked very well for them. Jesus was not arrested, until now, for fear of a rebellion sponsored by the many followers of the popular rabbi. A crowd of more than five thousand people followed him when he entered Jerusalem on the back of a colt. Judas, on that occasion, harshly criticized the fact. He believed that someone as important as Jesus, destined to save the Jews from the Romans yoke, should have chosen a better means of transport, one that would not make him look like a clown.
After completing his matinal prayers, he made a casual review of the Apostolic funds that he administered. The master told him to give them to Simon; another reason to suspect that something shocking was about to happen. After eating a light breakfast, he left the house to make his daily routine visits. Judas walked every morning to see the poorest families. They counted on the infallible help of the apostolate led by Jesus to survive. His greatest concern was what would happen to the dispossessed, who depended on their efforts. That preoccupation was one of the reasons why, a few days before, she faced Mary Magdalene. Jesus' wife decided to use a very valuable perfumed oil to anoint her husband's feet. Judas believed they could have sold it to use the proceeds to help a few families.
The day passed without any further news. Soon, it was time to get to the meeting place, which would take effect, as always, on the upper floor of the house that Jesus and Mary bought from Mary, Mark’s mother. The sun started its hiding routine; hurried, desirous of getting to his resting-place as soon as possible. He tried to hide behind the mountains, like a wounded lion, bleeding profusely. It was easy to think he wouldn't come back, ever. The opposite could be said of the moon, in a hurry to appear in the sky to caress the trees’ fingers. Dusk shadows descended slowly and cautiously down the houses’ walls, as if they were afraid of falling.
Judas climbed the stairs slowly until he reached the podium. The servants placed pots with water and towels for washing the apostles’ feet. Mary was always the one doing this chore.
Judas was surprised that Mary told him that her husband would do it this time. All these signs indicated to him that the master had serious plans to share with his apostles. The consequences of his actions would be of great importance; surely to affect the entire apostolate. When he entered the room, all the seats were arranged in the order selected by Mary. Most of the apostles were already seated in their assigned places. The exceptions were the seat to the left of the rabbi, assigned by him, and the one on the right, always occupied by his wife. On this special day, the left seat corresponded to Judas. This was a normal occurrence when the meeting dealt with matters related to the finances of the apostolate.
Judas asked Mary about the absence of the servants. She responded by telling him that she sent them home on her husband's specific instructions. Jesus told her that the issues of the meeting should not be filtered out to the population; they were exclusively for the apostles. All presents were muttering about the change of itinerary regarding the Easter dinner, and the many forerunner signs of important events. Judas thought of Jesus' impending arrest for his behavior against merchants in the temple, and his successful entry into Jerusalem.
Mary, helpful as ever, entertained them with her polite conversation about the scriptures. She also told them about her childhood and youth in Magdala, where she used to go to her favorite beach ‘to talk to the moon and the beach at night’. She said the beach, and the moon, were confidants to whom she could tell everything. Even thoughts she would not share with her mind or with her soul. She told them the beach and the moon responded to her through its reflections on the water, which neither the sky nor the stars could do. The talk concluded when Jesus entered the room. The royalty present in his appearance, his gestures, and his way of moving among the people always instilled respect. Nothing strange, for he and his parents, Joseph and Mary, were direct descendants of King David.
The first thing he did was to ask everyone to stop talking and speculating for a moment. Then, while James mixed the water and wine, he proceeded to place one of the vessels in front of Peter, with the clear intention of washing his feet.
‘Master, I can't let you do this,’ said Peter, a surprised look on his face.
‘You don't understand now, but eventually you will understand the meaning of my actions.’ Jesus replied, addressing everyone.
Peter, nervous about what was happening, tried to make a joke.
‘Since you're at it, why don't you take advantage of the situation and wash my hair and armpits, which I haven't done for a while.’
The Master smiled slightly, but continued with the washing as a demonstration of brotherly love. Then he proceeded to do the same with each of the apostles. Knowing his teacher's teaching methods, Judas realized that these actions were a parable to illustrate to them the sacrifice he was about to make. At the same time, Jesus wanted to teach them a lesson about the humility that should characterize them from this moment on. Rightly, Jesus was teaching, through his actions, something they could never forget. Because he sat in the seat to Jesus' left, Judas was the last to allow the rabbi to wash his feet. At that moment, Mary, John, and Philip, came back from the kitchen, bringing some trays of dried meat and fish, as well as abundant dried fruits and bread. James, Jesus’ brother, served four jars of fresh wine mixed with water.
From the moment Jesus began to speak, the apostles noticed that the message had the characteristics of a farewell.
‘This is possibly the last supper we will share together while we are alive,’ he began, ‘the next one will take place in the mansions my Father promised us. Let us share these foods so that they may be the only ritual. Visualize this bread and wine, as if they were my body and my blood. No more blood sacrifices. Whenever you meet, do it on my name. Celebrate as if I were present. Now, let us pray in silence for a few moments. Let us thank the Father for these foods we are enjoying.’
At the end of the prayer he turned again to the Apostles and said:
‘To fulfill the prophecy associated with me, one of you must betray me; hand me over to the authorities. Knowing how difficult this would be, I decided to assign that work to a person we all love. He is the one managing our finances, and to whom we would entrust our lives, if necessary.’ Immediately, he approached Judas and whispered in his ear something nobody heard. He then informed everyone how treason should occur.
‘The religious authorities have offered a reward of thirty silver coins for anyone who gives them concrete information of where I am. Judas will go to the palace of Caiaphas, and tell the captain of the soldiers that we will be gathered in Gethsemane, the garden that is located on the Mount of Olives. At that point, he will claim the reward offered. Those thirty silver coins will come in handy to the apostolate. He won't be with us tonight, at Gethsemane; that's the place we'll pray together for the last time.’
At that time, Judas clearly interpreted the signals the Master had been sending. Fresh in his mind was the memory of what happened a few days ago, as they were on their way to Jerusalem. Shortly before entering the city, at the top of Mount Olive, from where you could see the buildings, Jesus stopped the colt, and the whole caravan. Then, he started to mourn, with tears in his eyes, the sad fate of Jerusalem. ‘The Father has given me to you as his best gift, and you reject me,’ he exclaimed, sobbing. ‘The Son of Man will be sentenced, killed, and buried in your presence, and you will not even regret it. I cannot describe the deep pain I feel for you, dear city!’
Judas was overwhelmed! He sank into the seat as if a heavy load had been placed on his shoulders. He recalled all the undeserved privileges the Master bestowed upon him. He was the only apostle who wasn't Galilean. Before joining the apostolate, he was a member of a band of mercenaries, called The Assassins, whose objectives were to kill Romans and steal their possessions. That didn't stop Jesus from making him his most trusted man. He felt that a great melancholy entrenched his whole body and mind. He knew he would obey the Father's instructions. He would give the Son to be killed by the Romans, who would subject him to the heinous punishment inflicted on those who violated their laws. He also knew that he would be considered a traitor for eternity. He did not fear what he had to do. He will obediently perform the job assigned to him. Nevertheless, his rebellious spirit forced him to express feelings that were perfectly aligned with his thoughts.
‘I know what I have to do, and I will,’ he expressed with abrupt impetuousness, and wet eyes. ‘Nevertheless, I must tell my brethren that I do not believe that this sacrifice will contribute anything to our cause. We must obey the Father's designs and make Zechariah's prophecy come true. This sacrifice, however, will only serve for the Romans, the Pharisees, and the mob to enjoy a circus spectacle they did not expect. It will be demonstrated before their eyes that Jesus was not the Messiah they were waiting to free them from the Imperial yoke.’
All the eyes present were wet. The apostles felt as if a dagger pierced their hearts. No one wanted to show their tears, but everyone could feel them. The tears of the Master, in particular, seemed to rain warmly, falling upon the souls of the apostles. No one would have to suffer the eternal punishment that Judas would have to endure forever and ever. The apostles, one after the other, embraced him, indicating that any of them would gladly take his place, without thinking about it. Everyone understood that for the forces of evil to be eventually defeated, it was necessary for a virtuous man to face for all eternity, the unjust verdict of mankind. No one wanted to say good-bye, because they knew they might not see Judas again. Jesus instructed him to leave to carry out the mission entrusted to him, which he did, weeping silently. He realized the enormous loss of knowing he would no longer see his friends, faithful sharers of struggles and misfortunes.
Still visibly affected by the farewell that had just occurred, he went to the palace of the Chief Priest to comply with the instructions given to him. Caiaphas, uncomfortable with the situation, did not want to receive him. Instead, he sent Judas to a lower-ranking official to take care of him. More than ever, the apostle became convinced that the action he was performing would lead to the suffering, crucifixion, and death of the man who had rescued him from a wicked life. The rabbi had been his teacher and his inspiration to lead a life where detachment and kindness characterized his behavior. During the last conversation with his Master, he had whispered in his ear that he should not feel so sorry. While it was true that he would die on the cross, it was certain that three days later he would rise from the dead to show himself to the world in all his glory and splendor. Judas could not help but compare what inevitably happens during a childbirth. The mother suffers the pains, but soon forgets them in the face of the immeasurable joy of having in her arms the new life that has just been born.
There was little left to do. Judas concluded his meeting with Geconida, the official whom Caiaphas appointed to receive the information he offered. If the details provided were meritorious, the apostle will receive the reward for his betrayal. In effect, he received thirty silver coins, which he sent through a messenger to Simon to add to the apostolic funds. He then spoke at length with the captain of the soldiers on how to make their way to the house of Jesus and Mary. He was certain that his brethren were still gathered there. At that hour the city was sleepy, as if it had no intention of waking up. When the soldiers did not find them, Judas gave them new instructions to go to Gethsemane. The captain decided to seek reinforcements to go to Mount of Olives for fear that Judas would not be the alleged traitor. He could be complicit in an ambush, for which the place was made to measure.
Judas did not consider it necessary to engage with the soldiers in the arrest of the rabbi. He retired to a lonely place where he remained for several hours meditating in complete silence. Of his own free will, he did not wish to be an eyewitness to the trial, or participate in any of the events that followed. He did not want to be a part of the judicial comedy that was a precursor to the torture, and subsequent murder, of the person for whom he felt the deepest worship. He knew that his love for the Master would last for as long as his heart beat, and then for eternity. During these terrible days, he stayed away from the city, revisiting the places where John used to baptize, trying to tame his loneliness. The only way to keep his solitude under control, and feel accompanied, was by resorting to his memories. He cried millions of tears, hoping that the pain and suffering caused by his Master's death would be mitigated. He did not witness it, but he knew that his beloved rabbi died a slow death at the hands of the people he loved. In the end, Jesus found himself in his wife's arms, his hands outstretched upwards as if asking the Father for an explanation for what happened. His light-brown eyes, now lifeless, seemed to continue to interrogate the space around him. He appeared to be seeking the happiness that left him when he was young, cheerful, and inspired. Judas was not there, but he could hear the silence of the crucified Jesus. He was so palpable that it looked like he too had died.
He walked at night trying to recover the sound of thoughts he ruminated during the day. He knew they had gone to a place where they could hide in the shadows of his depression. It is in one of those lonely moments, close to dawn, that he ponders how he feels when he prays without prayers, and wonders if the Father hears the music immersed in his silence and prayer that has not yet been conceived. It concludes that man can define the object of his existence by asking something he cannot answer or trying to achieve a goal that he cannot achieve. Suddenly, he hears a voice calling him into that deep, dark, timeless place he doesn't want to go to. He refuses to discover the wonders of the unknown. Them he heard a soft voice he couldn’t believe!
‘Judas, turn this way and look at me.’
He looked toward the place where the voice, which seemed to be reciting prayers, came from. He saw the ineffable figure of the Master surrounded by a luminous halo that made him shine as if the sun himself was rising from him.
‘Master,’ he exclaimed joyously, as he hurried to where Jesus was, intending to embrace him.
‘You cannot touch me because I have not ascended to the throne of my Father. I just want to ask you to go back to your origins. Return to Judea, to the people of your grandparents, the place where you were born, the one who never left your soul, and always accompanied you. Tell everyone about my rising from the dead, my coming back to life. There you must remain for all the long existence that awaits you. Your brothers must not know of this encounter, or your fate. You will remain in the shadows of anonymity until my Father decides to take you into his presence, where you will enjoy with me a life of eternal joy. There's a place there that only you can occupy. In the meantime, go your way, my son’.
Many years later, Judas recalled the events of that day, to prevent oblivion from taking them over. He had to do it because, otherwise, how was he going to be able to determine that the most important events of his life actually occurred? That day of the apparition was one of the happiest. After all these years, tears of joy still rolled down his cheeks when he evoked that the Master appeared to him to ease his pains. From that glorious encounter, only the moments of taciturnity remained in his mind. He forgot what they talked about during their brief interlude, he remembered the quietness, and nothing more. His memories were now limited to their silences, united forever. Two loving souls conversing in absolute peacefulness.
It is then that Judas, immersed in his wails, decided to return to Judea. His thoughts were ahead of his pace to reach the places he left when in his heart, he was still a child. He stopped for a moment to hear the sounds of those childhood memories, and then those of his rebellious youth. At times, he tried to regain the steps that never returned; those who remained trapped in his heart, without producing sensations. He tried to fill his empty heart with those thoughts, and thus avoid its deterioration. Once in Judea, his co-religionists incited him to fight again against the invaders who still occupied his land, and plead with him to rejoin, which he did. For many years, he continued the revolutionary battle against the occupying empire. He understood that his land was a place where the word freedom had no meaning. A country where everyone, even the Romans, is a prisoner. His body and feelings were constantly walking to places where his soul did not want to go. He never allowed his friends to feel the pain he was hiding from the day he contributed to the murder of his Savior. During those battles, he thought of his Messiah as if he was about to return. On quiet nights, he could hear his silent call, as if he was watching him. As if he was the eye of a hurricane, Judas permanently waited for the Master to come back to take him to the promised place. The one he knew the Father reserved for him. When the rain fell, it was as if each drop reflected the memories, now distant, of his apostolate.
In the end, the life that never had peace, that of a man whose heart ended up empty, like a temple without gods, culminated in a deep dream of indescribable peace. A chariot of shadows, driven by angels of light, finally appeared to take him to the place where the sun hides. His unfortunate soul no longer had to cover all the thoughts he brought with him to the still unknown fate where they were carrying him. It's been many years since his memories ceased to be real. He couldn’t reconcile the images in his mind with what actually happened. He was no longer fighting a war he knew destined to lose.
The day he died dawned gloriously, illuminated by a radiant sun that could not warm his body already cold from the night before. Shadows and darkness were trying to stay in the humble room to hide Judas’ solitude. He expired naked under a sheet that could not replace the heat that left him without telling where it was going. Whoever had been with him would have witnessed the struggle between light and darkness that, until the last moment, battled for the possession of his soul. That night the moon wanted to be alone to escape the company of millions of stars eager to embrace it without achieving it, just to accompany Judas.
Death interrupted the loneliness of the man who learned to be alone. Those present kept an absolute silence, as if they wanted to hear his confession. Judas did not want to die like this but fighting to liberate his people. He would avoid falling asleep to prevent death from penetrating his dreams. His old companions never looked for him or missed him. He was always in solitude, and that's how he wanted to die, thinking it would be better. After all, he could no longer remember a moment, after Jesus’ death, when he was not alone.
The man who dedicated his life to the faithful worship of the savior of the world, his Messiah, gave his soul to the Creator when he was just 97 years old.”