There was a second man in agony, that night in dark Gethsemane.
* * *
He knelt amid the olive trees, on the far side of the fields of Kedron. He pulled his robe up over knobby knees, scarred from a thousand prayer sessions on as many dusty roads, and begged harder than he ever had.
"Lord, take this cup from me."
His Master leaned over him, a wry smile on His face, perhaps at hearing the echo of His own earlier words, spoken in just such a tone to His own Lord, and with exactly the same effect.
"Get up, Judas. You know you're the only one I can trust now."
"What about Peter? He's your favorite, isn't he? The 'Rock,'" Judas Iscariot said sulkily, rising to his feet and dusting off the earth of the olive grove from the homespun wool.
Jesus shook His head sadly. "Such a bad joke I made, and he took it so seriously. But you know he will deny me three times before dawn. I have seen it. I have said it. I cannot depend on him - even now he and James, and John, lie asleep on the other side of those trees." He raised His hand as Judas tried to speak.
"Nor can I trust the rest of them. Not with what you must do for me. I told them at dinner, 'All but one of you will betray me,' and still they refused to hear. When they tell stories about that night, they will say I singled you out as my betrayer, not as my friend...
"You're the only one I can trust to do what must be done," He said again.
"But why must it happen at all?" Judas asked.
"You know why. You know how the story must end, to fulfill the Scriptures. There are those who require a sacrifice, or rather a sacrifice must be made for them... I must give myself up to save them." His eyes glowed the way they had while He walked on the sea, and for a moment Judas understood. For a moment, Judas was privy to the same vision that drove his Lord.
But like all such visions, false or true, it faded rapidly. Judas shook his head, still puzzled.
"Why me, then? Why me?"
"The eternal question," Jesus mused, "and I ought to know. Well, Judas, in this case you're the only one I can trust, because you're the only one of my disciples strong enough to take the strain of the Pharisees' questioning. For they will be suspicious, and you must hold strong to a pose I know you won't want to strike. The rest of 'em... where are they? Ran away. Asleep. Oh, they'll be back, but that doesn't change the fact that they aren't here now. You are. That says something to me."
Judas stood a little straighter, heartened just as his Lord had been earlier by the calm words of His own apparitions.
"Yes, Lord. I must...," he paused and swallowed, "betray you - but how?"
"I'll stay right here in the grove. You go to the high priest Caiaphas and sell him my location... for thirty pieces of silver."
"The price of a slave!" Judas expostulated. "No one will believe that! You are-"
"A criminal, to them," Jesus interrupted. "A brigand. They'll believe anything you say about me, no matter how ridiculous. Trust me on this, as you have trusted me on so much. They will question you, but they will believe in the end, because it suits them."
Judas bowed his head.
Then he raised his head again.
"But they'll kill you!"
"They cannot kill me, Judas. You know my Father will protect me. I shall not die. Now go."
A rooster crowed somewhere in the darkness. Judas looked away nervously, and when he looked back Jesus was gone. Judas trudged out of the garden, looking for a priest.
* * *
A confusion of clashing metal and angry shouts. Though He was not resisting the guards, they nevertheless shoved Jesus along holding Him tightly by both arms, as if He were trying to escape. The one named Malchus stayed behind, hand clapped tightly to one side of his head.
Judas threw himself to the ground, wrapping his arms around Jesus' legs. The other disciples, those who'd shown up, were already whispering; they'd seen the purse at Judas' waist and Thomas was already wondering where it'd come from, and why Judas, normally so undemonstrative, was engaging in such histrionics. The rumors and suspicions that Jesus had tried to warn him about were already starting, but Judas held tightly to Jesus' legs as long as he could, and drew strength from Jesus' hand on his brow... a hand that the other disciples for some reason failed to see.
The guards dragged Jesus away between them and Judas lost his grip on the Lord's legs. He gathered himself up and fled, not wishing to face his eleven erstwhile friends as comprehension of a sort began to fill their faces with anger.
* * *
He waited as long as he could, till after sundown on that evil day, for Jesus to awaken, to smile down at him from the cross and step onto the cloak Judas held ready to spread for Him. But the twisted meat hanging there didn't move, except for the slow drip from the wound in His side. That body was dead, and Judas came to realize that he had worshiped an insane God. He had betrayed his Lord, more deeply than he had believed possible, and the Scriptures would not be fulfilled. Jesus had told him He would not die, and then had died. And all Judas had to show for it was a purse full of silver, just enough to buy a slave and, once, a Master.
Judas' faith disintegrated under the weight of what he believed he'd done; no one, not even his Lord, could return from having been so badly torn. He could not face his companions now - could never face them again, in fact. He returned to the holy place where he had sold his Master's life and flung his blood money to the floor of the sanctuary at Caiaphas' feet. He used some of his own coins to buy a rope. Then he headed out to the potters' field on the edge of Jerusalem, where the trees had sturdy limbs.
By the time three days later when an empty tomb was discovered in the hills and the juggernaut of belief Jesus had foreseen began to gather speed... even before the time when Peter and Paul between them decided what Jesus ought to have said, and put those words in the Lord's mouth... Judas had already discovered firsthand the trail that Jesus had broken for him. Forgiven for his haste, he sits at the right hand of the Lord whose destiny he fulfilled, waiting for his deed to be recognized by the children of His necessary acts.
He waits there still.
* * *
"If you have a gun, you can shoot one, two, three, five people; but if you have an ideology that you think is the absolute truth, you can kill millions."
--Thich Nhat Hanh
Top 'o the page.
Original content on this page © Alan P. Scott. All rights reserved.