Though I am no longer what I would consider a Christian, every Easter I think about Judas.
Growing up Catholic, around age 12, I attended religious instructions to prepare for my upcoming Confirmation, the process by which Catholics consciously affirm that they are willing to die for their faith. But, while I was always drawn to things Divine, partly because of a pious mother, I was starting to think for myself, starting to wonder about whether the concepts I was being taught by the nuns were making sense.
During one of the weekly lessons, I recall when our nun—was she Sister Mary-Joseph?—started to talk about Judas, the Arch-Nemesis of the Good. In her rendition of him, which embellished a bit on the Biblical text, he appeared as a thin, pale, anemic and angular man permanently hunched over the way most villains have been melodramatically portrayed. How could he not be such, this infamous excuse for a human being who would dare to betray the Son of God for any reward, not to mention the legendary thirty pieces of silver? Suitable gasps of horror escaped the lips of my fellow students, while the Good Sister, nodding approval, pursed even more her already pursed lips.
I, meanwhile, sat deep in thought, thinking about how other presented doctrines, particularly the omniscience of God, squared with Sister Mary-Joseph’s portrayal of Judas and his actions. If God, I remembered thinking, is all-knowing, then He had to know from all eternity, that Judas was going to inform on Christ. Moreover, if Judas had not brought the centurions to the Garden of Gethsemane and kissed Christ to point Him out, there would have been no Crucifixion and no Resurrection, the latter being the most important event in all of Christianity. Somebody had to take on that role. Somebody had to take the rap and be cursed throughout the succeeding centuries. That person did not have a chance—he was set up; he could not have not chosen to be the Betrayer. So why was Judas the “fall guy” for this betrayal of betrayals? What had he done to deserve this horrible and crushing fate? Nothing in the Gospels suggests that he was a heinous individual before the betrayal.
While I am certain that, when I was twelve in that classroom, I could not have said anything quite as articulate as the reasoning above, I did raise my hand and, when recognized, did stand up and say something about what seemed like the grossest unfairness of the situation facing Judas. I was truly perplexed, hoping that my mentor in black and white would make sense of what seemed horrifying nonsense. But I recall that a chilling silence immediately prevailed as I looked at the immobile nun, arms interlocked at chest level, who must have experienced, for a moment at least, what I would now call “synapse failure,” a disconnect in the brain. Then, after an interminable second, only her lips moved, barely, as she voiced in an even, but hard tone, “Sit down!”
So I sat down. But I didn’t shut down. For years the enigma of Judas’ fate and the nun’s response continued to annoy, unsettle, and intrigue me. Looking back, I now know that the nun’s reaction was perfectly created to set me on the course I needed to take: to find my own answers in sources other than conventional authority. Yet, as my general education became broader and broader, I still could not find anything that could come close to granting me a satisfactory answer, even if I had known what “satisfactory” meant.
Then one day, I went to see Zorba the Greek playing at the local theatre. I was enraptured with Zorba’s (and, by extension, his creator’s) zest for and exuberance in life. So, I sought out another of Kazantzakis’ works and found The Last Temptation of Christ. As I settled down to read this magical text, I found myself in a powerful trance that, nevertheless, felt more like reality than the reality I had known. When Judas came on the scene, I was transfixed.
For here was a rendition of the man that Sister Mary-Joseph could never have imagined, or, if imagined, would have had to reject or face possibly a permanent synapse failure. (While I did not check my memory by skimming the novel before writing this post, I am telling you here what was imprinted on my consciousness about Kazantzakis’ portrayal.) If Sister Mary-Joseph could embellish the Biblical account, so, too, could Kazantzakis. Onto his scene strode, not the mousey, sniveling Judas of St. Mary-Joseph’s imagination, but rather a behemoth of a man, a mountain-man type, with huge muscles and stalwart stature.
This Judas was not only a disciple, but also a confidant and protector of Jesus. As a bodyguard, he accompanied Christ everywhere and swore allegiance to Him.
While this image of Judas was startling enough to me who had been programmed to think of him as extremely different, there was one scene between him and Jesus that brought shivers and tingles to my body, that made me jump from my chair and walk with great energy, arms gesticulating in triumph, around my room.
In this private scene, Jesus tells Judas that he has something very important and very sad to tell him. Wanting to ease Christ of any burden, Judas is very eager to hear the disclosure. Jesus goes on to tell him that he, Christ, is going to be betrayed, arrested, tried, convicted and sentenced to death. Upon hearing this news, Judas is outraged by what his beloved Master is about to endure; and he is immediately ready and willing to crush the betrayer, fight the authorities and even take Christ’s place and be executed.
With great compassion, Jesus looks up at this man who, to confirm his faith in the conventional way, was more than willing to give up his life for Him; Jesus then says, “No, Judas, you have the harder thing to do…you have to betray me.” It still chills and thrills me to repeat those words.
Finally, I had found the answer I had craved in my youth. My intuition that something was not quite right with the conventional story of Judas was validated by an author who wrote, not from doctrine, but from the deepest well of his heart. In betraying Christ, Judas was not acting as the demonic figure he has been labeled as, but rather as the most loving friend who sacrificed his public honor and legacy for the sake of his Beloved Master and His Mission. Judas then agreed to, chose to, do what on the outside was viewed as the most despicable act, but whose true nature was not discovered and articulated until the heart of one, Kazantzakis—who loved life, often, like Zorba, in the face of death—dared to speak it.
Such was the Sacred Contract, to use Carolyn Myss’ words, that Judas and Christ had with each other, the former probably in order to experience and pledge the deepest love possible, the other to set in motion a covenant of Love, no matter how distorted it would come to be by his followers. In effect, Judas went through his own Confirmation by sacrificing, not his body, but rather something more important—his good name—for his faith; if he had not betrayed Jesus according to their contract, if he had not believed Jesus knew exactly what he was doing and asking, Judas would truly have betrayed Christ and disconfirmed his faith.
So, now my Confirmation of Faith validates the belief that nothing happens without purpose, however as yet unknown; that, as Jane Roberts’ Seth says, we choose all that happens to us; that the Heart knows that which the Mind knows nothing about, and that we co-create freely and deliberately, often with love and atypical (even counter-intuitive) sacrifice, all of our shared reality. This is the New Understanding that rises, Easter-like, again and again, from the death of no-longer-useful and thus limiting beliefs.
Source of Judas Image: http://us.cdn1.123rf.com/168nwm/candyman/candyman1004/candyman100400183/8511695-judas-on-engraving-from-the-1800s-perfomed-by-george-lechner-in-the-oberammergau-passion-play-publis.jpg