One of the most intriguing questions that have always pervaded the Easter period is: Was Judas Iscariot, the man who betrayed Jesus and thus purportedly set forth the process of human salvation, a saint or a villain? It is a question quite easy to ask but whose answer is as complicated as the mosaic that mankind’s redemption is.
Inevitably, when considering the Passion of Jesus, the dramatis personae are quite obviously Jesus himself, his accusers and his betrayer. Judas Iscariot then etches himself right at the centre of this matrix.
There are those who have argued that because Jesus was destined to die to save mankind anyway, what Judas did was a noble act because, they argue, without him, the history of Christendom would probably have never been written or would perhaps have taken another trajectory. He did God’s will and he catalysed the fulfillment of the scriptures.
Judas, some scholars have written, was a powerless servant answering to a higher, inescapable imperative and should therefore not be judged too harshly.
But perhaps in considering Judas’ role in the passion of Christ we need to know who this man was, where he came from and how he found himself in the inner Cabinet of Jesus’ disciples. The Bible gives a sketchy picture of Judas. But, if one dares to look, there is plenty of historical material put down about Judas and his life.
He came from a place called Kerioth, a small town in southern Judea. He was from a rich family that was quite respected. In fact, Judas was a temple man and was quite well versed in finances. By all standards, Judas is said to have been a well refined, handsome, spritely young man. He loved power and the finer things in life. His character was also peppered with a dash of mendacious delinquency that made him a care-free, self-serving person.
So when he heard that there was a man in town about whom the prophecies had spoken and who was destined to be the Messiah, his heart was filled with a demoniacal longing to be close to the Messiah and be part of his inner circle. And therefore he made it his passion to follow Jesus at every turn and insinuate himself into his discipleship.
It is worth noting that among the twelve disciples, Judas was the only one who was never called. He presented himself to Jesus and begged him to accept him as one of his disciples. He figured that when Jesus was finally enthroned as the King, he would have a special place at the table and he would be rich and powerful.
Judas role is thrust into prominence during the last supper and the passion of Jesus. But he was, among the 12, the most hated because of his ill manners. He was a drunkard, loved the way of the flesh and was always rude to the others. Peter for instance, really loathed Judas, John feared him because of how he used to behave.
It was Jesus who, time and again, would reconcile the disciples when the entire house threatened to degenerate into acrimony. Maria Valtorta’s Poem of the Man God perhaps gives one of the most cogent outlines of the life of the disciples and the character of Judas.
As time progressed and Judas realised the Messiah whom Jesus represented was not what he thought about, he became a veritable bull in a china shop. Being the weakest link, he was easily manipulable and because he retained his ties in the world of merchants and the temple lords, he stuck out as one who would easily take up terrible task of handing Jesus to his tormentors.
Jesus knew all this but he still kept him close. We are told of the act of betrayal but we are never told what followed afterwards, apart from the fact that Judas committed suicide. Valtorta outlines that on the night that Judas betrayed Jesus he became completely deranged. He started running up and down like a mad man.
He could hear the howls of the mob baying for Jesus’ blood and every time they howled, Judas would run blindly blocking his ears in a bid to stop the sounds now so tormenting him. At one time Jesus, bloodied and beaten, looked at Judas who was in the mob on the way to Calvary and their eyes met. Judas froze and fell to the ground and was violently trampled by the crowd.
While running so blindly he bumped into a stray dog, described as a big hairy grey dog. Dogs were very rare in Jerusalem those days. Dog and Judas locked eyes and the dog pounced on him. The two wrestled on the ground and the dog is said to have bitten Judas’ cheek, at the exact spot where he had planted his treacherous kiss on Jesus’ cheek.
Proud and unrepentant
He escaped and found himself at the House of the last supper seated at the very seat Jesus had sat and facing the chalice and the ciborium that Jesus had used during the last supper. He drunk all the wine that had remained in the amphorae from the last supper. Unable to bear the sight, he started running again blindly and bumped into Mary, the Mother of Jesus.
“What have you done? Mary asked him. When he looked at Mary’s eyes, he remembered the eyes that had looked at him on the road to Calvary and started running away. “Stop, Judas,” Mary shouted, “Listen, I am telling you in his name, repent, he forgives.” But Judas ran away anyway.
With his twisted face because of the badly injured cheek he found himself back in the Garden of Gethsemane holding the bloodied mantle that Jesus wore at the time of the betrayal. He uttered blasphemies at the mantle and then ran away and found an olive tree where he hanged himself.
It is said that in his last hours Satan completely possessed him. The symbols of the dog, black cat or a billy-goat are said in the study of magic to be the preferred forms in which Satan appears to people.
In all this where was Judas’ saving grace that would merit him the title of a saint? The sin of Judas, it is said was not so much the fact that he betrayed Jesus. It was his pride and his resistance to seek forgiveness even after being implored by the Mother of Jesus. Even Peter denied Jesus but he was forgiven when he showed remorse. In any case, when he cut off the ear of the soldier, identified as Malchus, Peter showed his love for his master in ways that others never did. Other disciples, with the exception of John, ran away but Jesus still forgave them.
From the word go, Judas was steeped into sensuality, power and riches, the trinomial of Satan and his heart was completely unrepentant. He chose suicide over the humility of repentance and therefore carried his sin with him to the gates of hell.
In many ways, Judas was not a pitiable character. He was a conniving manipulator who knew what he wanted and who, because of this very nature was easy to use to execute the act of deceit. Those who consider him a saint for what he did fail to see the parallelism between him and Cain, the man who also killed his brother in the Bible. They were both cut from the same cloth.
[The writer is former KBC Managing Director, former senior editor at the Standard Group and an author]
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