Witnesses of the cross STORY #2

MAUNDY THURSDAY: JUDAS’ BETRAYAL

I didn’t know that eventually, a day called “maundy thursday” would mark the worst mistake I ever made.

That I would be known as the “Betrayer” for millennia.

That fated Thursday of Passover Week, the twelve of us came rejoicing to a feast with Jesus to find out what his plan was. The triumphal entry into Jerusalem was undoubtedly a success despite the donkey. But this feast quickly become a meal of sadness, remorse, confusion, and eventual terror.

It became my last Passover feast ever. My last meal with my friends. My last conversation with Jesus. My last everything.

I didn’t realize that Thursday night marked the turning point in my heart and my life. I saw an opportunity, and I took it.

I was the smartest of the disciples. (That’s saying much.) I was by far the shrewdest and most forward-thinking. So of course it bothered me that Jesus felt I was trusted enough to be the group’s treasurer, yet I wasn’t trusted enough to be invited into the inner circle with Peter, James, and John. They were just fishermen, after all.

I missed out on Jesus’ transfiguration with Elijah and Moses. I wasn’t invited into Jarius’ house to witness Jesus raise Jairus’ daughter from the dead. And there were so many times, when Jesus pulled aside Peter, James, and John and left the rest of us to do the menial thankless labor, like finding food for people and keeping them calmly standing in lines, waiting and hoping for healing.

Oh, the promises me made! The threats. The people we turned away, especially the pesky children. I hated crowd control the most. We were supposed to be planning an insurrection, not hand-holding the sick and dying. I got saddled with refereeing Simon the Zealot and Matthew the tax collector, whose opinions differed on every front. Nathaniel’s honesty was downright annoying. Thomas’ analytical mind kept him from dreaming about the future–he was a wet blanket over every idea I offered. As if he could think things through better than me.

I could see the future. I recognized the potential of Jesus Christ, so I got behind Him. He could draw massive crowds with simple storytelling and profound messages. He held babies and honored women. He reprimanded and silenced priests and demons alike. If there were ever a political mastermind, it was Jesus. He was mesmerizing.

The destiny of this man–this prophet–was unlike any in our history. I had no doubt he would throw off the Roman oppression, but my expectations climbed even higher than that. He could rule the world. And I would be there next to him. Well, maybe next to Peter or Andrew, but close. Knowing Peter, he would cause some catastrophic mishap, and I could move into his place next to Jesus. Secretary of the Treasury. If only I could wait it out.

That was the problem. This whole coup was taking too long to formulate. Somewhere along the way, I moved from curious to admiring to disillusioned. Three years of wandering through deserts, pinching pennies to feed our growing number of followers, wearing the same cloak and sandals day after day, mobbed by the diseased and the desperate. All those hands, touching, grabbing, begging. It nauseated me. I never realized that the populace could be so exhausting and infuriating.

We all knew that the religious leaders wanted to kill Jesus. How many times had Jesus already escaped their verbal entrapments? Several times they picked up stones to kill Him, yet He always slipped away, unharmed. This was the safeguard I counted on. He couldn’t be harmed. He was much too smart for capture–they’d need someone’s help on the inside, for sure. Someone He trusted. He would never allow Himself to be fooled by their schemes.

The idea of capture flitted about my mind for some time. Perhaps Jesus’ capture would push Him to declare Himself. Force Him to make His move. Provide an avenue for a triumphant escape. He talked so much about doing God’s will. Wasn’t it God’s will that He save our people and establish His kingdom? Isn’t the kingdom what He always talked about?

Why wasn’t He doing anything? Just talk, talk, talk. No action.

Then I heard that the chief priests would pay someone to turn Jesus over to them. So I inquired. Oh, the thrill of standing in the middle of that group, watching their beady eyes turn toward me in respect–their mouths parted in anticipation–their plans dependent solely upon me and my relationship with the most famous man in all Israel.

They offered me 10 pieces of silver. I turned them down. This was a delicate and difficult situation to orchestrate. It was Passover week. The crowds were insane over Him. Twenty, they offered.

No, I said. Thirty. Thirty pieces of silver. All for me.

They agreed. I left the Temple with the bag of coins jangling from my waist. I hatched my scheme.

The Passover did not go as I expected. At dinner, Jesus said one of us would betray Him. No one could think who it might be. I’m not a bad guy, you see. No one thought it would be me, not even after Jesus gave me the bread and told me to “do it quickly.” Something happened in me then. I can’t quite explain it. It was an infusion of rebellion, power, and cunning–a clarity of thought and action that filled me with beautiful arrogance and showmanship, like I was on the cusp of fulfilling my destiny. I felt like the most clever and powerful man in the world.

I slipped out of the house and went straight to the Temple. The leading priests, the Pharisees, and the elders were waiting with armed guards, which sent my heart thumping wildly. All the Jewish leaders were here! This was going to be an impressive arrest! We waited for more soldiers and priests to arrive. Then I told them my plan and led them through the city streets, through the Ashpot Gate, down the Kidron Valley and up the rocky hill toward the olive grove. I knew Jesus would take the disciples there to pray and rest. We had spent much time in that grove and the garden beyond. Always waiting around and doing nothing. I knew he would go there after dinner.

I led them through the twilight until I heard voices. Jesus was waking Peter and James out of a dead sleep. I could hear their muffled voices, the clanking of Peter’s sword at his side, the stretching and yawning, their discussion about the time. They were always two steps behind Jesus. Unlike me.

A guard’s torch threw beams dancing into the semi-darkness the path, and there He was. Standing serene and powerful. Even in the shadows, I could feel Jesus’ eyes riveted on mine.

Sudden fear gripped me, but I called in my most cheerful voice, “Hail, Rabbi!”  I stepped forward and kissed Him, so the soldiers would know whom to take.

Jesus said to me, “Would you betray the Son of Man with a kiss?”

I looked away from him. My heart twisted inside me.

Then Jesus said to the soldiers, “Who are you looking for?”

“Jesus the Nazarene,” they replied.

“I am He.”

As the soldiers moved forward to grab him, One of the disciples asked, “Lord, should we fight? We have our swords.” Of course, Peter drew his sword. He’d been waiting for this moment for years! A declaration of war, perhaps?

Peter made a great slashing movement toward the closest person in my company–the high priest’s slave named Malchus–and severed his ear. Malchus fell screaming to the ground. Jesus rebuked Peter. He cupped the side of Malchus’ bleeding head, and when Jesus pulled His hand away, the ear was there again. Even in the shadows, we could all see that.

I felt nausea wash over me. Not over the bloody ear, but over myself.

The soldiers tied Jesus’ hands behind him, while the disciples fled into the darkness. I think John and Peter followed along at a distance because they surfaced later at Caiaphas’ house. Peter loitered by the fire. John was allowed entrance to court because he knew Caiaphas.

The rest of the night was surreal, like a nightmare unfolding before you. It felt familiar because I had played it out in my head, yet as the events sped past me, I realized nothing was the same. I had the horrible feeling that someone would die by the end of the dream.

The soldiers took Jesus to Annas’ house, then to Caiaphas’s residence to hold a trial–in the middle of the night! Of course they had no crimes to bring against Him. The trial was illegal.  False witnesses rolled through with preposterous testimonies. I realized then that the Pharisees had used me. They had a mock trial waiting and ready to go.

The leaders asked him entangling questions to incriminate Him.

Finally, they said, “Are you the Son of God?”

Don’t say it, I pleaded in my thoughts.

Of course He did.

Early in the morning, they bound Jesus and sent Him to Pilate, the Roman governor, to be executed because the Jews had no authority to kill Him themselves. The arrogance and shrewdness with which I had betrayed him turned to a vile sickness in my stomach. When I realized what had happened, I took the silver and ran back to the Temple. I was covered in sweat and dirt, desperation and exhaustion.

As I entered the outer court, I saw the chief priest and elders standing along the side courtyard, talking excitedly among themselves.

“I have sinned. I have betrayed innocent blood!” I shouted.

They looked at me disdainfully. “What do we care? That’s your problem.”

I threw the coins at their feet. It was blood money. I didn’t want it. As the coins clinked against the floor and rolled in all directions, I turned and fled.

Oh, the cost of ambition! I changed history, and I lost my soul!

witnesses of the cross story #1 “Palm sunday: John’s perspective”

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