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Entries in Gethsemane (1)

Thursday
May242012

Kiss of Death

The Fire at St. Judes (11 x 14 w/c on Yupo) 

Why don't parents name their newborn sons Judas anymore?

 

Experts say the top names for baby boys in 2017 are Liam, Mason, Ethan and Noah.

 

Judas doesn't even make the Top 5000.

 

Why? Of course one could say it is self-evident that there's been a stain on that name since the moment Judas Iscariot laid a kiss of betrayal (now known as The Kiss of Peace) on the mug of Jesus Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane a couple of thousand years ago. This led to Jesus' arrest, trial and crucifixion.

 

But is the slander against Judas justified? Should we, could we, rehab his reputation? Given his rep, if he were around today, no doubt the introductions would be awkward: 'Smithers meet Judas, he'll be watching your back tonight on the security detail.' Or 'Colleen, please help welcome Judas to the bank, he's our new custodian for the safety deposit boxes.' The issue is one of trust. Or mistrust. But hasn't enough time passed? Why should mere mention of a name conjure up such antipathy in the 21st Century? Should we continue to despise Judas, simply out of habit?

 

Appointed

Judas was reportedly handed 30 pieces of silver to lead authorities to the outlaw Jesus. Yet there are scholars and critics who say the story of Judas's 'betrayal' is a complete fabrication, fomented by those who conveniently wished, inter alia, to foster anti-Semitism. As the critic Frank Kermode said: "Jesus was shopped, if you like. Somebody handed him over (betrayed him) and Judas was appointed to take the blame."

 

All we can really know almost for sure is that the story ended, seemingly, very badly for both Jesus and Judas. Resurrection notwithstanding, it's hard to imagine how it could have been worse, especially for poor Judas who appears to have been condemned to hell for all eternity. His name is mud, right up there with Hitler, Pol Pot, Bin Laden and Paolo Gabriele.

 

Now it has been some years since we stood at the bus depot in Jerusalem that looks up toward Golgotha, or Skull Rock, the reputed place of crucifixion, and equally long since we strolled among the twisted trees in the olive grove of Gethsemane.

 

Likewise it has been a long time since I was was a student at Drama Centre, London, (Group 13) but a more recent crop of actors there (Group 48) performed The Last Days of Judas Iscariot. This dramatic piece, by Stephen Adly Guirgis, is said to be an “exploration of our own betrayals, our own personal lapses of belief, and who we need to look to for forgiveness.”

 

Blue Moon

We'd have been fearful, in the Drama Centre of the 1970s, to tackle anything so weighty. We thought we were singularly racy if we put up a stark version of Garcia Lorca's Yerma, though it was more than passingly entertaining when Pierce Brosnan trotted out to sing a solo voce Blue Moon along the lines of The Mavericks.

 

Consider the fact that Judas once was a kid too. Had a mother. And a dad (Simon). There's no reason to believe he was, as a child, traumatized by being placed backwards on the potty, or that he was insane, or that there were any abnormalities about him that would warrant being handed the thankless job of helping deliver the Son of God to a nasty outcome (High Priest and Romans not off the hook). I can imagine his anguish and torment with his decision, pressured over dinner by the boss to accede. He accomplished his task perfectly well and was consumed by guilt over it. But there was enough blame, as it were, to go around. It was, variously, the Sanhedrin and Pontius Pilate and the Emperor Gluteus Maximus of whatever his name was, who also stand implicated. We don't hear about their anquish.

 

Which is the thrust of the book Judas, Betrayer or Friend of Jesus, by former University of Manitoba religion professor William Klassen. He suggests poor Judas has received an exceedingly bad rap. Klassen argues that if it wasn't for Judas, Jesus wouldn't have been able to fulfill his high purpose. In this romantic view Judas isn't a betrayer of the itinerant Messiah. He is a courageous accomplice - the most true and trusted friend of all. And the act for which Judas's name has been made mud is not a betrayal but is a deliberate handing over of the God-man divinely orchestrated by the holy kiss – all perfectly necessary for the Christian story to unfold.

 

Possibly it's a stretch to expect our friend Judas to occupy a spot in the Top 50 baby names.

 

But Klassen might have a worthy argument: to continue the slander against Judas points to an unseemly need for a psychological and theological scapegoat, one who assuages collective angst over the one big crucifixion, indeed all crucifixions, but who is a scapegoat nevertheless.

 

(Reader Note: I recently updated this piece, which first appeared on this blog in 2012).