Eleven years ago, a dear sister at my church asked me to write and deliver a monologue in the character of Judas to her women’s class. The recent resurfacing of the Gnostic Gospel of Judas and the proximity of Easter and the preceding Betrayal Night has prompted me to look it up and post it for your perusal. I didn’t read the scripture citations – they were for any Q&A that might take place afterward. I think most of the women in the class were so stunned when I threw a velvet bag of coins over their heads and across the room at the end of my delivery that they must have forgotten their questions. Most of what I write doesn’t hold up this well over time, in my opinion – but it is still very, very subjective and conjectural ….
You – women of God’s people – I know you’ve come here to the women’s court of the temple to pray. Perhaps some of you have come to pray on behalf of Jesus whom they crucify even now. But please – I beg of you – pray for me, too. I have to tell you … I have to explain to someone … what I have done. I have to make you understand.
My name is Judas, son of Simon; I’m from a little town called Kerioth. If you haven’t read the book of Joshua you’ve probably never even heard of it. I’ve traveled with Jesus these three years – through Israel, Judea, even Samaria. He chose me for this – and the other eleven. He took us up on a mountain and called us apostles. (Mark 3:13-19)
Why, the very word means “one sent forth.” Then he sent us forth with no money, no bag of extra clothes, or sandals or even a staff. (Matthew 10:9-10)
He never understood that it takes money to conduct a campaign of any kind. Even later on, when he entrusted me with our treasury, Jesus still never understood the value of money. (John 12:6)
Whenever we needed money, I was the one who would have to beg of young women like you to give out of their household money – women like Mary Magdalene; Susanna; Joanna, the wife of Herod?s chief steward, Cuza. Why, if she had been caught, Cuza could have lost his job; she could have lost her life! (Luke 8:2-3)
That was just the power Jesus had over people through the words he spoke. And he didn?t even fully understand or appreciate that power, either.
People followed him everywhere. Into the desert …. up the mountainsides … across or around the lakes … just to hear him speak. They didn’t care if they missed a few meals or even lost their jobs to go and hear him speak. They didn’t pack a lunch or a bag. They just followed. And Jesus fed them. Thousands of them. Five thousand-odd one time; some four thousand the next. And he’d say that the food he had to give them that was important was what God had given him to say to them. I’ve always known that God was with him. What I can’t understand is how he could not see that those people would have lived and died at his command.
Jesus would take people to these far-away places and talk to them about his kingdom, but he would never make the first move to establish it.
We didn’t ask for the Romans to occupy the land God gave us. We didn’t ask for their puppet kings or their tax collectors or their occupation soldiers. We didn’t ask for Herod the Great to kill our children or for his son Herod to steal his brother Philip?s wife and cut off the head of John the Baptist just to please her and her exotic dancer daughter.
We needed Jesus. We needed a man of God to be our King. Jesus was perfect for the job; he was born in the kingly tribe; he was a prophet. And I really thought just a week ago when we came into Jerusalem that Jesus was ready to accept the responsibility.
The crowds turned out by the thousands to watch him ride into town on a donkey, placing palm leaves all along the path – even throwing their coats down to make his way clean!
Then what did he do? The very next day, he threw over all of the tables of the concessionaires here in the temple’s outer court; rebuking them for turning a house of prayer into a den of thieves. So, in one stroke, Jesus embarrassed the priests for allowing the trading to take place here and alienated most of the wealthy men in Jerusalem – men who would have rushed to support the cause of economic freedom from the Romans! They were only here doing their jobs; making it a little easier for everyone who travels here at Passover to buy an unspotted sacrifice and to be able to give to the temple of God in our own coinage – and not some filthy Greek or Roman currency!
But that wasn’t what set me off. What really infuriated me was two days before, in Bethany. Simon the leper, a Pharisee, had been gracious enough to hold a pre-Passover feast in honor of Jesus at his own house. He invited Mary, Martha, Lazarus, all twelve of us, and many other Pharisees. Mary took a notion to break open a jar of perfume worth a year’s wages and poured it on Jesus’ feet and wept over them and wiped his feet with her hair, so that the whole house reeked of it. And he just sat there and let her do it. (John 12:1-3) She is not a woman of good repute, and it did nothing to enhance his image to be seen letting her touch him. So when Simon called it to his attention, Jesus rebuked him! Said she had treated him better than Simon, his host, had treated him!
Then he told her that her sins were forgiven, which did not go over at all well with the Pharisees. (Luke 7:36-50)
Well, I was not going to let it go at that. I told Jesus that she was wasteful; the perfume could have been sold and the money at least given to the poor. And Jesus said, “Leave her alone, she’s done a beautiful thing, preparing me for my burial.” (John 12:7-8).
He was always talking about dying and being buried, when he should have been talking about living and fighting and dying for something worthwhile!
I was angry. Jesus embarrassed me. He embarrassed a good man with the same name as my dad, hosting that dinner. A wealthy man; a man who could have supported our cause. He didn’t show any political sense for what Rome was doing to our people and had no interest in doing anything about it. He didn’t seem to care whether we were taxed to death, whether we had money to live on, or whether we lived or died.
I was furious, and that doesn’t make right what I did next. I knew the priests and the Pharisees wanted Jesus and Lazarus, too, because Jesus had raised him from the dead. They didn’t know where Jesus would be at any given time; he never seemed to have an itinerary. (John 12:9-11)
And it’s not surprising Jesus avoided them; they had tried to stone him once before – right on the temple grounds, against the Law! – because he had said that he had seen Abraham. But he slipped away and escaped then. (John 8:58)
I’m not sure what was going through my mind, I was so angry. I’m not sure whether I thought I could control the unavoidable confrontation by being the “inside man,” or if I could force Jesus to a moment where he would have to lead the people against the Romans and truly become their king. I thought about the wasted money – the money we needed just to be able to make our sacrifices and enjoy the feast in Jerusalem – maybe even to buy swords to defend ourselves. I went to the chief priests and asked them what they would be willing to give me if I handed him over to them. (Matthew 26:14-15)
It was sickening. They seemed delighted. (Mark 14:10) And they counted out for me thirty silver coins. (Matthew 26:15) Then they promised to give them to me if I would lead them to him. So I waited for the best opportunity to do it. (Mark 14:11)
And for days, I couldn’t bring myself to do it. It was nauseating to think that the religious leaders of our people would sell the life of a man so quickly … right here in the temple. But then they’ve been selling us out to the Romans for years.
Jesus taught here almost every day after that. They could have taken him right here; they didn’t need me! I guess they were afraid of the crowds. They’d try to trap him in His own words; they?d ask him things like, “Should we pay taxes to Caesar or not?” and he asked them to look at a coin and tell him whose name and picture were on it. And he said since it’s Caesar’s name and Caesar’s picture, then give it to Caesar ? just days after he had thrown out the men who exchanged Caesar’s money for our own!
Then the first day of Passover came, and instead of going back to Bethany, Jesus somehow knew about someone who would give us his guest room in town to celebrate the feast. But our host had failed to provide a servant to wash our feet when we arrived. So Jesus took off his clothes and wrapped a towel around his waist; poured water into a basin and washed our feet. And when Peter objected, he said we were clean, but not all of us. (John 13:2-11)
And I thought to myself, “Does he know what I’ve done?”
Then he started talking about death again. When he gave the blessing for the paschal feast, he called the bread his body, and the wine his blood. And he said one of us would betray him. Peter got John to ask Jesus who it was. And Jesus took the bread and dipped it in the wine and said, ?The one I give this to.? Then he gave it to me. Instantly, I thought of the Psalm – the one that says ?Even my close friend, whom I trusted, he who shared my bread, has lifted up his heel against me.” (Psalm 41:9) Like the others, I said, “Surely not I, Lord.” He looked right at me and said, “Yes, it is you.”
He said to me, “What you are about to do, do quickly.” I guess the others thought he was telling me to buy more for the Feast or go give some money to the poor. I wasn?t sure why he told me this. Did he want me to do it? Had he changed his mind about becoming King? It was the perfect time, on Passover, with all of the people from all of the tribes in Jerusalem, to lead the revolt against the Romans.
Or did he just know that I had been agonizing all week over the deal I had made … and it was time to do what I had promised? Was he just telling me that he’d be going out to the Garden on the Mount of Olives at his usual time that evening?
I guess I secretly hoped maybe he would prepare the others for what was about to happen. So I left. I came here to the chief priests and led them and the temple guard out to the Garden where I knew he’d be. (John 18: 1-2)
And he saw us coming before we saw him; saw the lanterns and torches and called out “Who is it you want?” The guards answered “Jesus of Nazareth.” So Jesus said, “I am he.” We thought we were being ambushed, and the guards and the priests all jumped back and fell over each other. Nothing happened. While they were getting back up, Jesus said again, “Who is it you want?” And they said again, “Jesus of Nazareth.” So he said, “I told you that I am he. If I’m the one you’re looking for, let these others go.” (John 18:2-9)
“Are you coming after me with swords and clubs, as if I were leading a rebellion? I was with you every day in the temple courts, and you didn’t lay a hand on me. But this is your hour – when darkness reigns.”
Still, nothing happened. I looked at the other apostles with Jesus. They weren’t prepared. Two of them had swords, if you can call Peter’s fish-gutting knife a sword. I looked at the priests and the guards. They looked back at me, and I realized it was me they waiting for. The time had come. Was it possible they weren’t sure it was him? That this was still a trap? No, they knew him.
But they’d made a deal … with me. I took a step forward and said, “Greetings, Teacher!” and started to kiss him.
He looked at me and said, “Judas, are you betraying the son of man with a kiss?”
There was nothing I could do. I’d made a promise. No – I had made a deal. I had sold him out. I kissed him, and the priests and guards leaped forward to arrest him. Peter drew his big knife and made a ridiculous attempt to defend him, and Jesus even put a stop to that.
Then all the apostles ran. I wasn’t the only one who betrayed him. The priests arrested Jesus and took him away. Then they made their payoff. Look, here it is: thirty pieces of silver. The price of a man’s life.
The priests took him and tried him for blasphemy, because he said he was the Son of God. They spit at him. They blindfolded him and punched him and told him to prophesy who it was that hit him. Then the guards took him and beat him. (Mark 14:65) All I could do was watch.
By morning the chief priests and priests and the whole Sanhedrin handed down a guilty verdict, but they realized they couldn’t stone Jesus to death without the Romans’ permission. So they trumped up a charge of treason and took him to the Roman governor Pilate. I thought for a moment, Jesus might have a chance. Of all the ironies, the Roman governor said the charges were groundless and he didn’t recognize blasphemy as a crime. So he offered to release Jesus. And the crowd screamed for him to release Barabbas, a thief, instead.
When Pilate asked what they wanted him to do with Jesus, they started screaming, “Crucify him!” So it wasn’t just me, and it wasn’t just the priests, and it wasn’t just the apostles who betrayed him. It was everyone. All those people who used to follow him anywhere. I guess they were disappointed because Jesus wouldn’t be the king they wanted him to be. So Pilate had Jesus stripped to the waist and flogged with a whip 39 times. Then he put a purple robe on his bloody back and pushed a crown made of thorns on his head and made fun of him again.
I couldn’t stand it any longer. I ran back here to the temple to try to undo this deal. I went to the priests and offered to give back the money. I told them that I had sinned; I had betrayed innocent blood. They refused to take the money. They acted like it was none of their concern. They said it was my responsibility.
And it is. That’s why you’ve got to pray for me. They’re nailing him to a cross right now, and he’s going to die a long, torturous, terrible death – pushing up against the nails in his feet, scraping his beaten back against the wood to take the next breath – maybe for hours.
I don’t want to die that way. When they’ve killed Jesus, they’ll hunt down the rest of us apostles and kill us too. I want to go quickly. Just a snap of the neck. “Cursed be the one who hangs on a tree,” that’s what the Scripture says. Well, that’s me. I deserve worse, but I’m not going to wait around for it.
Look at it. Thirty pieces of silver. About a month’s wages. For thirty pieces of silver, I’ve killed my master – and my friend.